Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Villa goal sends Spain into semis in Confed Cup

SoccerNews in La Liga, World Cup 18 Jun 2009

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Spain edged Iraq 1-0 to make the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup on Wednesday and equal the world record for the longest winning streak by a national team.

A second-half goal by Valencia striker David Villa undid the resilient Asian champions for two wins out of two in Group A to ensure a place in the last four where they are likely to meet either Brazil or Italy.

The hard fought victory wrote their names in the history books with Spain, who have not been beaten since November 2006, matching the record of 14 straight victories held by Australia, Brazil and France.

They also moved to within one win of equalling the 35-match unbeaten run by Brazil between 1993 and 1996.

“It was really tough and hard to find our rhythm but we got the goal and it took us to the semi-finals which was the main goal tonight,” said coach Vicente del Bosque.

“I congratulate Iraq for the way they played. They had a lot of dignity and made it very hard. We played it by the book, which is what you do against a defence like that.”

Despite losing, wily Iraq coach Bora Milutinovic said it was a sweet defeat.

“It was a dream for my players to play against Spain and to put up that sort of performance really makes me proud,” said the Serb.

“They played very intelligently today. I’m very, very happy for Iraq.”

Del Bosque was forced to start without Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, who limped out of training on Tuesday after a strong tackle by Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso.

He also rested Carles Puyol, Albert Reira and Raul Albiol, with Carlos Marchena, Gerard Pique, Juan Manuel Mata and Santi Cazorla in the starting 11.

Milutinovic also rested several players, including star striker Younis Mahmoud, with his focus on their last match of the group stages against New Zealand, which he believes they can win.

Compared to their 5-0 thrashing of New Zealand on Sunday, this was a much tougher test for Spain and they made a hesitant start.

It took them eight minutes to unleash their first shot when Cazorla’s left foot strike was easily gathered by goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid.

Iraqi forward Alaa Abdul Zahra found the target soon after but it never threatened Iker Casillas, winning his 94th cap, in the Spanish goal.

Pique’s glancing header went close on 15 minutes and Fernando Torres, Spain’s hat-trick hero against New Zealand, almost got on the end of a looping Xavi through ball minutes later.

Spain’s best chance came midway through the half when Cazorla fired a cross in from the right to find an unmarked Villa whose left-foot volley whistled past the post.

Spain were threatening a goal but a composed Iraq held tight, getting bodies behind the ball effectively and they went to the break all square.

The European champions upped the tempo after the restart and Villa should have buried a golden opportunity eight minutes into the half when he fired a close range header straight at the goalkeeper.

But he made no mistake a minute later when he got on the end of a Joan Capdevila cross and angled his header into the right-hand corner to break the deadlock.

It fired up Spain with Alonso, Torres and Mata all going close but Iraq never gave up, fighting bravely to the bitter end but unable to draw level.

Spain, with six points, play their last group match against South Africa in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The tournament hosts, who drew their opener with Iraq, take on New Zealand later Wednesday in their second game, with the top two from the group qualifying for the semi-finals.

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