Red-hot David Villa scored his fourth goal of the World Cup to fire European champions Spain past arch-rivals Portugal 1-0 on Tuesday and into quarter-final clash against Paraguay.
The Barcelona striker pounced in the 63rd minute of an absorbing encounter that saw plenty of chances and Portugal’s Ricardo Costa sent off, chipping a rebound over goalkeeper Eduardo after his first shot was saved.
It was enough to put Spain into a last eight showdown on Saturday against the South Americans, who crushed Japanese hopes in a dramatic 5-3 penalty shoot-out earlier in the day.
Whoever gets through that match has either Argentina or Germany awaiting them in the semi-finals.
Villa refused to see Spain as clear favourites against the Paraguayans.
“I am very happy tonight, although there are two favourites for the quarters. However, I am confident we can come through,” he said.
Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque insisted his side had shown their toughness – and insisted that Fernando Torres – currently in Villa’s shadow and substituted in the second half – had done his bit as Spain seek to land the trophy for the first time.
“We have now seen that we can also win the tough games. Fernando worked hard and we all have over the past month. Our confidence is rising and we want to make history.
Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz admitted: “Spain had the better chances and I think, sadly, they deserved to win.”
In a stadium packed to the rafters with Spanish and Portuguese fans, Spain quickly signalled their intentions with Torres testing Eduardo with a shot from the edge of the box in the opening minute.
The goalkeeper did well to fist it away and he was in action again soon after with Villa cutting in from the left and fizzing a shot on target.
Portugal were all over the place and Villa rifled another goal-bound in the sixth minute, with Eduardo palming it to safety as he again came to the rescue.
It was impressive stuff from Spain, who were playing the slick passing game they are so good at.
Portugal’s record of not conceding a goal in South Africa was looking decidedly shaky and Xavi troubled them again by turning and whipping a shot over the bar from a quickly taken corner.
After weathering the early storm, Portugal finally got a look in when Tiago blasted a shot from distance, with Iker Casillas pushing the ball in the air and then having to scramble it to safety as Hugo Almeida challenged him.
Another chance presented itself when Cristiano Ronaldo teed up a 30-yard freekick and an edgy Casillas spilled the ball before the Spanish defence quickly mopped up.
Portugal were back in the hunt in a finely poised game and they almost broke the deadlock early in the second half when Carlos Puyol got his knee in the way of a Almeida cross and it looped over Casillas’ head and shaved the post.
The match started opening up but it was game over for Liverpool’s Torres, who was hauled off after 58 minutes with Fernando Llorente replacing him and he almost made a spectacular entrance, heading straight at Eduardo.
Llorente seemed to spark Spain into life and seconds later Villa saw a powerful shot squirm past the post before the Barcelona striker demonstrated why he is one of the best in the business.
After some quickfire passes on the edge of the box he found space on the left and while his first shot was saved, Villa pounced on the rebound to chip it into the net.
Sergio Ramos nearly made it 2-0 just minutes later with an under-pressure Eduardo just getting his fingertips to a powerful shot to turn it behind for a corner.
Another ferocious Villa drive stung the goalkeepers’ palms with 13 minutes left as Spain turned up the heat before Portugal’s misery was completed when Costa was given a straight red card for elbowing Joan Capdevila who fell dramatically to the floor holding the side of his face.