The knockout round ended today with the Iberian derby, as Spain pushed past Portugal with a 1-0 victory. Super happy David Villa's 63rd minute strike may have been the only goal, but it was a far more entertaining game than the scoreline would have you believe. (Okay, maybe not you, dear soccer fans...but certainly more entertaining than the whiny soccer haters would think.)
The first half was fast and lively right away, with Fernando Torres taking a nice shot within about the first minute of play, followed soon after by an attempt from Villa. Portugal's keeper Eduardo was busy but did very well against the Spanish attack, and his own side put up some great efforts of their own. Tiago and Hugo Alemida both provided tests for Spanish keeper Iker Casillas, as well as a long-range free kick from Cristiano Ronaldo. Spain's passing and midfield work was very strong, but was running up against a solid Portugal defense. As halftime approached, Portugal seemed to be taking an edge, but soon after the second half kicked off Spain took the reins again. Substitute Fernando Llorente had a sharp header hit right at Eduardo, quickly followed up by a shot from Villa that just went wide. But moments later Villa took a pass from Xavi and struck it at Eduardo, then pounced on his own rebound and knocked it off the underside of the crossbar and into the net. It led to a gleeful celebration by Villa, who was soon clobbered by a standing pile of Spaniards.
The rest of the match saw Spain with much of the possession as well as a few more chances, but the 1-0 scoreline remained and Spain are now set to meet Paraguay in the quarterfinals. Weeks ago I had chosen Spain to take the Cup this year, and I'd started to doubt myself after their opening 1-0 loss to Switzerland. Their other group matches showed an improved side, and today's game was much more like the Spain I expected to see...and the one they expected to be, I'd reckon, although I'm sure they would have preferred another goal or two. If they move on to the semifinals and meet either Argentina or Germany, a single goal will likely not be sufficient for victory.