As a miner's son, David Villa knows a seam when he sees it and the one he has unearthed in South Africa is as rich as any discovered in the goldfields of the Witwatersrand. It produces goals and the four he has now scored have taken his side to a quarter-final against Paraguay in Johannesburg, a city built by miners.
When two years ago to the day, his partner Fernando Torres won Spain the European Championship, Villa was a spectator, deprived by injury of the chance to take on the Germans, although he had been so prolific earlier in tournament that he remained Euro 2008's leading goalscorer.
The irony is that his triumphs in South Africa have come at a time when Torres has been eclipsed. Theirs is a natural partnership; the tall lithe man from Madrid; the short stocky one from the sticks. Maybe it was because has not yet shaken off the knee injury that cost him the final quarter of Liverpool's season, but Torres faded badly after a bright opening, taken off before an hour was up and replaced by the considerably less famous but rather more effective Fernando Llorente from Athletic Bilbao.
Five minutes after he trudged off, Spain broke through for the goal that decided an Iberian derby in Cape Town that never scaled the heights suggested by its collective cast list. It was, however, beautifully put away.
There can be no more nervous sight for a defender than Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez exchanging passes on the edge of the 18-yard line. Xavi's back-heel found Villa. When he was growing up in Asturias, in Spain's far north, Villa suffered a broken leg that forced him to kick with both feet. Eduardo, who excelled in the Portuguese goal, blocked the first from Villa's left but not the rebound delivered with his right. Eduardo was in tears on the final whistle, although but for his agility Sergio Ramos or Villa would have doubled Spain's lead.
Cristiano Ronaldo just looked angry as he swept past reporters and when asked why Portugal, nominally the third best team in the world, had been eliminated in the first knockout round, he replied pithily: "Ask Queiroz".
As Carlos Queiroz has known him since he was a teenager at Sporting Lisbon and had made him captain of his country, the reply may have been born of the same frustration that saw him aim a gob of spit at a pitchside camera as he walked off at the end of the match. Two of the supposed three best footballers in the world, Wayne Rooney and Ronaldo are out of this World Cup; the stage is clear for Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo's burden was perhaps heaver than either of his rivals. Portugal were ranked third in the world, had reached two more semi-finals than Spain, but the argument that Ronaldo was the only man who would make Vicente del Bosque's side was one that held water. Sometimes Portugal resemble a republic of one and just before the start, Ronaldo looked up to the southern skies that had been sending down buckets of water all day, as if to ask for divine help.
He received little from the referee, Hector Baldassi. A trip by Joan Capdevila, an elbow from Ramos, his team-mate at Real Madrid, met with no response of any kind and left Ronaldo wearing the familiar mask of someone who has been a victim of some ludicrous injustice, although he received better treatment than Ricardo Costa, dismissed right at the end when his elbow brushed Capdevila, who collapsed as if he had been shot in the face.
Queiroz did not dwell on the incident, although he conceded Spain had been the better team while adding that Portugal had "played with a great deal of dignity and ambition." He said: "We had a number of opportunities, in the first half and the second, but unfortunately we couldn't score. We allowed Spain to score to go 1-0 up because we allowed them to play the football they play. This made our attacking moves more difficult. We could have scored at certain moments but I think Spain's win is justified.
"Our fans are right to be proud of the brilliant way we have played in this World Cup." Brilliant was a bit strong. Aside from the 7-0 rout of North Korea in Cape Town, Portugal did not score in any of their three other matches . They have been a sometimes beautiful team but Arsène Wenger, commentating in the stands last night, knows where lovely football without a cutting edge can get you.
Spain (4-1-3-2) Casillas; Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Busquets; Xavi, Alonso (Marchena, 90), Iniesta; Villa (Pedro, 88), Torres (Llorente, 58).
Portugal (4-3-3) Eduardo; Costa, Carvalho, Alves, Coentrao; Tiago, Pepe (Mendes, 72), Meireles; Simao (Liedson, 72), Almeida (Danny, 58), Ronaldo.
Referee H Baldassi (Argentina).
Man of the match Villa.
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