Iraq worked very hard, especially in the first half, to disrupt Spain’s traditional free-flowing game, but as they legs began to give in the second half, Spain were able to stamp their authority on the game, looking more relaxed after Villa broke the deadlock 10 minutes after the restart.Iraq never looked liked scoring, but did well to hold their own against the world’s top ranked team, especially during the opening 25 minutes.
In Spain’s match against New Zealand, everything they touched in the first half turned to gold as four goals rained in.
But the first 45 minutes of today’s game were in stark contrast as Vincente Del Bosque’s men struggled to find their rhythm – passes failed to come off on a regular basis, while there were several close, yet frustrating attempts in front of goal.
Spain’s first clear chance came in the 16th minute when Gerard Pique headed goal-wards from a corner kick.
His effort was a weak one, and it left Fernando Torres, who was better positioned, a frustrated man, underlining the European side’s uninspired start to the game.
In the 25th minute the crowd thought Spain had taken the lead, only to realise that Villa’s back-post volley had flown into the side-netting.Five minutes later a long range effort from Santi Cazorla yielded the same result, with La Roja’s only other decent attempt before half-time coming when Joan Capdevilla’s header was saved by Iraq keeper Mohammed Kassid, who took a blow to the head from Sergio Ramos for his efforts.
Spain’s inadequacy in front of goal again came to the fore in the opening stages of the second half as Villa headed straight at Kassid after being superbly picked out by Cazorla’s accurate delivery.
But Villa finally got it right in the 54th minute, ending Spain’s frustration as he headed home an outstanding cross from the left by Capdevilla.
The strike boosted Villa (pictured) to second on the all-time Spanish goal-scorers list, trailing only Real Madrid’s Raul.
The goal also freed Spain up to find their rhythm again, allowing them to keep possession and thereby limit any come-back hopes for Iraq.
Juan Mata had a couple of chances to extend Spain’s lead, but dragged a 70th minute effort wide and then saw his close range effort being kept out thanks a brave block by Kassid.
Ramos came close with a rasping volley in the 85th minute, but there were nervy moments two minutes later in the Spanish box as Nashat Akram shot just wide.
But in the end Spain preserved their lead until the final whistle to book their place in the semi-finals, while the Lions of Mesopotamia, with one point in two games, are all but on their way home.