by Holger Osieck
The quarter-final between Spain and Paraguay was typical of those games that pit one of the favourites against a supposed outsider. Everyone expected the European champions to win easily, but Paraguay’s combative playing style and the fact they pressed high up the field made life very difficult for the Spanish and denied them goalscoring opportunities. The South Americans again demonstrated how difficult they are to play against, showing good understanding throughout the side and a compact defensive formation. The latter was already well in evidence as they conceded just one goal in their first four matches at the tournament.
As a result, the game at Ellis Park turned into a test of Spain’s patience, and so it wasn't surprising that the tie should be decided by a late goal. If you're able to play patiently, sooner or later an opportunity to decide the game will come your way. And when you can count on an attacker of the calibre of David Villa, it's only a matter of time before he strikes – even if he enjoyed a slice of good fortune on this occasion as the ball rebounded off both posts before crossing the line.
The result sets up an intriguing semi-final between Spain and Germany, which has the added spice of being a rematch of the final of UEFA EURO 2008. That occasion was illuminated by the flowing football of the Spaniards, who were deserved winners of the tournament. But it’s not easy to maintain such a high standard of performance, while other teams have made progress in the interim.
In addition, since becoming European champions, Spain's opponents have all been doubly motivated by the chance of causing an upset. However, for all their attacking flair, it will not be easy for Joachim Low’s side to penetrate Spain’s solid defensive set-up. Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets will deny them space to manoeuvre in midfield, while further forward Xavi and Andres Iniesta are always capable of making room for themselves with their constant positional changes.