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Spain marksman David Villa faces another daunting test
by Ridge Mahoney, July 7th, 2010 2:55AM

TAGS:  spain, world cup


[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] A miserable scoring drought plaguing Fernando Torres would probably have halted Spain’s World Cup campaign earlier if not for the sharp finishing of David Villa, who is a co-leading scorer in the tournament with five goals.

Coach Vicente del Bosque has stayed with Torres in the starting lineup but may be finally forced to make a change, since the Germans have scored four goals apiece in their last two games and Spain can’t afford to squander any chances.

In five matches, Spain has scored six goals, a rather meager total that is partly due to the inefficiency of Torres, who has taken 13 shots. Fortunately, Villa has scored in each of Spain’s last four games, including the only tallies of 1-0 wins over Portugal and Paraguay in the knockout phase.

Yet Spain has been anything but efficient with its chances at this World Cup. It lost its opener, 1-0, to Switzerland despite a 24-8 edge in shots. Villa, who also leads the team in shots (23), got Spain back on track by scoring both goals in a 2-0 defeat of Honduras, then broke open the final group game against Chile with a long lob from more than 40 yards on a ball that rebounded to him off a sliding clearance by goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

Yet his other goals represent situations Germany must be wary of. In the 17th minute of the Honduras game, Villa veered inside from the left to fire a rising blast inside the far post. (He’d hit the bar from almost 35 yards out a few minutes earlier.) A deflected shot from 20 yards out looped into the net for the clinching second goal. He scored on the rebound of his own shot to beat Portugal, again knifing through the defense on the left to fire a shot that was parried.

Villa can also set up goals. To clinch the win against Chile, Villa floated to the left side of the penalty area and waited patiently for Andres Iniesta to arrive and slot a square pass sweetly into the far side of the net. If he is to play the floating role he prefers there will need to be a central complement, whether it be a forward partner or a pivoting midfielder such as Cesc Fabregas or Iniesta. Yet he can play as a target, linking touches to the array of midfielders Spain utilizes.

Del Bosque could leave Villa more or less alone up front and deploy a formation to combat the strong German contingent -- Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Oezil and Sami Khedira -- and also monitor marauding right back Philipp Lahm. Fabregas is an attractive attacking option but he suffered an injury in training Monday and his status for the semi isn’t clear, though according to Spanish officials he is “available for selection,” which means he’s ambulatory, at least.

Yet the balance and cohesion between midfielders Xabi Alonso, Xavi, and Iniesta – who play in various patterns, backed by Sergio Busquets -- is a vital facet of Spain, which has rarely displayed the fluency of passing it displayed so prominently leading up to this tournament.

If Del Bosque sticks to a two-forward system, he has good options in Fernando Llorente and Pedro to replace the sputtering Torres as a partner for Villa, who can glide behind defenders to collect the ball, or sweep past challenges on the dribble to set up a shot. Or the coach can give one final chance to Torres, who scored the goal by which Spain beat Germany, 1-0, in the Euro 2008 final.

Villa scored to break a goalless deadlock against Paraguay in the quarterfinal on a rebound of a low shot by Pedro, who broke through on the right flank to collect a ball from Iniesta and fire it off the base of the far post. It bounced to Villa, whose shot hit both posts on the way into the net.

Such a hefty dose of luck is unlikely to return against Germany, and Spain can’t be pleased with needing Iker Casillas to save a penalty kick and squandering one of its own while edging past Paraguay.

Having missed a penalty in the win over Honduras, Villa deferred to Xabi Alonso, who couldn’t get the ball past Paraguayan keeper Justo Villar on the second attempt after referee Carlos Batres voided his first kick due to encroachment by Spanish players. Villa had won the penalty himself with a driving dribble that lured defender Antolin Alcaraz into a clumsy tackle, and those raiding runs are another element of his game Germany must control.

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