CAPE TOWN, June 30 (DPA): David Villa showed misfiring superstars Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo how it's done in Cape Town Tuesday, scoring his fourth goal of the World Cup to hand Spain a 1-0 victory over Portugal and passage into the quarter-finals.
While Torres has been struggling to find form after recovering from a knee injury, the new Barcelona recruit has been on fire in South Africa.
Villa’s decisive 63rd-minute goal at the Green Point stadium was just reward for a Spanish side that never stopped coming at Portugal, who packed their half and tried to rely on counter attacks until they went behind.
Villa scored after a cute back-heel from Xavi put him through. Portuguese keeper Eduardo, who made a string of good stops, blocked the first effort, but Villa - now joint top-scorer at the tournament along with Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain and Slovakia's Robert Vittek - buried the rebound.
"They were very difficult to break down, but in the end we got the goal and we have left a very important rival behind us," Villa said.
The Iberian rivals, meeting for the first time in the World Cup, were looking to book a quarter-final slot against Paraguay, who beat Japan on penalties earlier in the day.
Portugal's influential playmaker Deco, who missed the last two games with a hip injury, started on the bench despite resuming training, while Spain stuck with Torres despite his poor form.
Xabi Alonso recovered from an ankle injury, meaning Spain fielded the same line-up that beat Chile 2-1 to recover from an opening loss to Switzerland and top Group H.
Portugal boss Carlos Queiroz brought in Hugo Almeida and Simao as he looked for the goals that have eluded Portugal so far - their 7-0 thumping of North Korea excepted.
Portugal had not conceded a goal in South Africa - their defence managed shutouts in 22 of their last 26 internationals prior to Tuesday's game - but Spain were determined to test that record.
Almost 63,000 fans watched Spain tear into the Portuguese early on, with Torres looking lively.
In the second minute, he tested Eduardo with a curling shot from the edge of the box that the keeper did well to palm away. Then on 12 minutes, he fired just over from a short corner.
The Spaniards looked to find Torres and Villa, who took turns hugging the wings, with through balls. And on 25 minutes Xavi almost played in the charging Villa, but the ball was a touch too far ahead for him to control.
Torres faded, however, as Spain tried to find a way through the ranks of Portuguese players.
Spain's Iker Casillas looked the most likely to create a goal for Portugal, first knocking the ball up in the air from a weak long range shot - almost gifting Almeida a goal in the process - then spilling a speculative Ronaldo free kick.
A brief cameo on 20 minutes highlighted the problems with Ronaldo - whose only international goal in the last 16 months was a fortuitous strike against North Korea.
Portugal looked briefly dangerous as the half came to a close, but Almeida could only nod wide from close-range in their best chance of the game.
After a brief scare, when Almeida's dinked ball for Ronaldo was deflected just wide by Joan Capdevila, the second half was all about Spain.
Yet it was only when Vicente del Bosque brought off Torres on 59 minutes, replacing him with Fernando Llorente, that the Spanish burst into life.
Llorente made an instant impact with a diving header from close range as Spain picked up the pressure, and Villa shot just wide from outside the box.
It was suddenly only a matter of time, and Villa obliged the crowd with his goal.
Queiroz rolled the dice on 72 minutes, bringing on Liedson and Pedro Mendes for Pepe and Simao as he urged his team forward. He had already pulled off Almeida for winger Danny.
But it was Spain who continued to threaten, and Villa could have added another with a fierce drive that Eduardo once again was equal to.
Llorente came close again with a header on 87 minutes, but it was Villa who received a huge cheer when he was taken off in the dying minutes.
Portugal's misery was compounded when Ricardo Costa received a straight red on 89 minutes for an apparent elbow on Capdevila.