Cape Town: David Villa finished off a move of Spanish perfection to finally break down Portugal's defensive wall and give the European champions a 1-0 win and spot in the World Cup quarterfinals.
Villa scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the 63rd minute, while Cristiano Ronaldo again failed to inspire Portugal.
A trademark Spanish passing move found Andres Iniesta in the center. He flicked the ball through to Xavi Hernandez, who backheeled to Villa charging in on the left.
The Barcelona-bound striker saw his first shot blocked by Portugal goalkeeper Eduardo, but on the rebound, he coolly slotted home with his right foot.
Portugal's only defensive weakness had been on its right flank, where Ricardo Costa struggled. He was sent off for elbowing Joan Capdevila in the 89th minute, stifling a late Portuguese drive.
Spain will now play Paraguay in the quarterfinals on Saturday at Ellis Park.
Exactly two years after Spain ended a 44-year drought by winning the European Championship, the team stayed on course to become the first European titlist to add the World Cup since West Germany did it in 1974.
Spain was about teamwork, and it showed from the start. Fernando Torres and Villa immediately moved down the left, looking to exploit Portugal's weakness on right back. Within the first seven minutes, Eduardo had to make three quality saves to keep Portugal in the game on angled shots from Spain's two strikers.
Yet strangely enough, Spain did not continue to pound Portugal's weak right side and instead settled for the intricate passing game through the center it has become famous for.
Once Portugal's defense settled, it proved why it has one of the best in the world, conceding only one goal in its last 12 matches. It clogged play in the center and Spain got frustrated to the extent that it was reduced to long-range attempts Gerard Pique.
Portugal's problem was that Ronaldo was yet again off form. Right before the opening whistle, he looked up at the night sky and started pleading with his arms outstretched, almost begging to finally make his mark on a huge game.
The heavens didn't respond. AP