Monday 11 December 2017

Sure-footed Spain bid to make history by ending quarter-final hoodoo

James Mariner

They may have ended 44 years of hurt in Vienna two years ago when winning their second European Championship, but it is advancing past the World Cup last eight that has long been the bane of Spanish football supporters.

Five times they have reached the quarter-final stages of the tournament and five times they have returned home before the semi-finals, including in four of the last seven tournaments.

The only time they have reached the last four at a World Cup came in 1950, when just 13 teams showed up in Brazil and four group winners, including Spain, advanced to a final, winner-takes-all pool. Spain finished bottom.

Manager Vicente del Bosque remains confident his much-admired side can make history and make the semi-finals for the first time.

"We're in good shape," he said ahead of tonight's meeting with Paraguay at Ellis Park. "These players want to make history."

The winners of tonight's game face the daunting opposition of either Germany or Argentina in Durban next Wednesday, but Del Bosque has refused to look ahead of the dangers posed by a Paraguay side that have not conceded since Daniele De Rossi equalised for Italy in the opening group game.

"Paraguay show so much character, with players who exercise great pressure. They are players who know their trade, with the ball or without and they have a similar style to Chile, who we already know about," said Del Bosque.

Paraguay are already enjoying their best ever World Cup showing after squeezing past Japan on penalties in Pretoria, but goalkeeper Justo Villar admits the South American side go into the match as major underdogs.

"We can't give them space, they are a team who have a very good touch and who move the ball very quickly," said the 33-year-old, who plays his club football in Spain with Real Valladolid.

"If we give them just a little bit of space they will slap us in the face." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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