If this game were a film then it would be called Escape from Alcaraz, the Paraguyan defender of that name epitomising the unceasing South American pressing game which denied the European Champions the chance to illustrate why they arrived in South Africa as favourites. David Villa managed a jail-break, but Fernando Torres was shackled by Antolin Alcaraz and Vicente del Bosque's must decide whether to drop him for Wednesday's semi-final.
Torres admitted after the game – of which he played 55 minutes – that he was still less than fully fit after knee surgery. "It is a difficult tournament for me because my fitness is not the best. I didn't arrive in the best moment especially in terms of fitness," he said.
But Spain have never found a way of making Villa and Torres work together. It was only after Villa's injury in the semi-final of the European Championships two years ago that Torres found his form and left a mark on the tournament. Significantly, it was after his substitution against the Paraguayans, with Cesc Fabregas arriving, that Spain began to find their shape. Torres had sought sanctuary in a central and wide right role, to minimal effect. But once he was gone, substitute Pedro, Andres Iniesta and Villa formed a new three-man front line which combined so intricately to allow Villa to deliver the decisive goal. No fewer than 11 of Spain's 15 shots on goal followed the change.
That Spain's progress has been so much less emphatic than Germany's indicates they have stood still – regressed, even – since their tiki-taka football saw off the Germans in the Euro 2008 final in Vienna. Six of the Germans and six of the Spaniards who started in Vienna also did in Saturday's quarter-finals, but the Germans have moved on.
In mitigation, Spain's stuttering progress towards Wednesday's semi-final has brought them up against more attritional sides. Paraguay set out to stifle Iberian creativity – by half-time they had completed 107 passes to Spain's 250. Spain encountered much the same again Switzerland and Chile and it was Torres who pointed out that things may be different in Durban. "They will try to win, they will try to attack and we can have more space and we can approach that," he said of the Germans. Gerard Pique reiterated the point. "It is always difficult when a team is just trying to defend and try and score on the counter-attack. You cannot choose when you score and sometimes you have to defend as well."
Pique, who did not start in Vienna, highlighted the new players in Germany's line-up as the reason for their excellence at this tournament.
"It's maybe because they have a lot of new young players like [Mezut] Ozil, like [Thomas] Müller, [Sami] Khedera, that are new in the team and they are playing great," he said. The only Spanish player exuding the same energy is Villa, whether capitalising on the space he likes to find wide left or in the central area where his angular winner illustrated the poacher's instinct. Had he not missed his penalty against Honduras, he would have taken the penalty Xabi Alonso missed, and might have been on seven goals for the competition, not five. As Torres said: "He has been very important for us; the key for Spain. He gives us the opportunity to keep looking forward thinking we can win the World Cup." Torres would like to be saying the same for himself. But Villa can well do without him.
Paraguay (4-4-2): Villar; Veron, Alcaraz, Da Silva, Morel; Caceres (Barrios, 84), Santana, Barreto (Vera, 64), Riveros; Valdez (Santa Cruz, 72), Cardozo.
Spain (4-1-3-2): Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol (Marchena, 84), Capdevilla; Busquets; Alonso (Pedro, 75), Xavi, Iniesta; Villa, Torres (Fabregas, 56).
Referee: C Batres (Guatemala).
Man of the Match: Villa.
Attendance: 55, 359.Reuse content