CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — David Villa called it one of his best goals.
He was talking about the timing but the effort was pretty nice, too.
On a night when Portugal’s defense fought off attack after attack, the Spanish striker finally broke through in the 63rd minute, giving the European champs a 1-0 victory Tuesday and a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals.
Villa took Xavi Hernandez’ heel pass and struck a left-footed shot that was saved by Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo.
He then fired the rebound with his right foot off the underside of the crossbar and into the net — his fourth goal of the tournament — sprinted to the near corner and slid on his knees to the flag, letting out a mighty yell.
“It was one of my best goals because it got us through to the next round,” Villa said. “Keep scoring so we can keep going.”
Spain plays Paraguay in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
While Villa is tied for the lead in scoring at the World Cup, it was a disappointing tournament for Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s most expensive player. His only goal came late in Portugal’s 7-0 rout of North Korea in group play, and he had a quiet night against Spain.
His best attempt Tuesday came from a free kick in the 28th minute when he launched the ball from 35 yards with such a dipping swerve that all Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas could do was block it with his body and see the ball bounce free.
Otherwise, Portugal could rely little on its captain. As he was pointing left and right where his teammates should go, he often walked.
This was 33rd time the Iberian neighbors have met in soccer, but the first time in the World Cup. Spain has won 16 of the matches to Portugal’s five.
Portugal went out of the tournament after conceding its first goal in four games.
“To lose by one goal in a championship hurts very badly,” Eduardo said.
The game came two years to the day that Spain ended 44 years of international futility by winning the European title. The last defending European champ to also capture the World Cup was West Germany in 1974.
“The match was extremely intense,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “In the second half, we were better than Portugal. We had greater depth in our play, and we controlled the game very well.”
Spain was about teamwork, and it showed from the start. Fernando Torres and Villa immediately moved down the left, looking to exploit Portugal’s defensive weakness at right back, where Ricardo Costa struggled. 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.
“His performance was brilliant,” Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz said of his goalkeeper. “He saved and kept the team fighting for the result.”
Yet Spain moved on to an intricate passing game through the center of the field. Once Portugal’s defense settled in it frustrated the Spanish, reducing them to long-range attempts by Gerard Pique.
Still, Villa knew a goal was coming.
“We never lost our confidence,” Villa said. “We know the potential we have and what we can give.”