Villa Delivers Again for Spain, as Cristiano Ronaldo Drops His Swagger

Spain knocked out Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal without putting together a memorable performance, but controlling most of the possession and relying on its sensational savior to come through once again. David Villa has been invaluable for Spain reaching the quarterfinal stage of the tournament, accounting for all of the team’s goals except for one, which he set up. On the other side, Cristiano Ronaldo failed to even resemble anything close to form, disappearing for long stretches of the match and, overall, never lifting his team to another level.

Brilliant:  David Villa has been Spains offense, but others must step up for Spain to go further

Brilliant: David Villa has been Spain's offense, but others must step up for Spain to go further

In winning, Spain did little more than advance. Despite an improved performance, there is still some unease about Spain’s game, the most obvious concern of all being Fernando Torres. The mega talented striker is very off: his coordination is off, his pace and dribbling is off, his timing is totally off. Yet it is clear that he is trying very hard to get back to form. It’s as if a chip was misplaced after his recent operation. The game changed positively for Spain when Torres was replaced with Paco Llorente, whose presence had an immediate impact. How long will Del Bosque stick with Torres remains to be seen. He wants to show confidence and will probably start with Torres again against Paraguay, but both Torres and Spain must improve significantly going forward.

Ronaldo’s mediocre World Cup was as regrettable as Spain’s victory was deserved. So much more was expected from a player of extraordinary technical and physical ability, but in the end this was the least effective Ronaldo ever seen, going back to when he first came on the scene with Sporting and Man United. Much less effective than four years ago in Germany and anytime in between up to the end of his La Liga season. From the outset he seemed less nimble, slightly stiff, but more importantly not hungry enough for the ball and unable to shake off defenders. He was just another player out there, nothing special. One measly goal against North Korea, meaningless, yet he never tormented defenses with pace and unpredictable technique as he is capable of. All the criticism is going to Portugal coach Carlos Queroz, yet somehow this explanation doesn’t satisfy.

Fatigue, lack of focus and a relaxed work ethic may explain Ronaldos drop in form

Fatigue, lack of focus and a relaxed work ethic may explain Ronaldo's drop in form

At the end Cristiano said that he was “inconsolable” and that he had the right to “suffer privately.” Ok amigo, but where was the fire on the field? Diego Maradona was surrounded by less talent when he propelled Argentina to the World Cup title in 1986. Four years later Diego definitely had much less to play with in Italy 1990 and still somehow managed to get Argentina to the final. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo need to rise to the absolute top of their game on a world stage like this, regardless of the manager’s terms. There was no magic from Cristiano this time around. Sadly, if he would have missed the tournament, it might not have made any difference for Portugal.

Spain will take on Paraguay next, a difficult and confident opponent who will play with utmost determination. Paraguay has reached unprecedented success in South Africa and with four world class strikers in Oscar Cardozo, Nelson Valdez, Roque Santa Cruz and Lucas Barrios certainly has the firepower. The question for Paraguay remains its midfield, an area Spain will look to exploit. This match will be tighter than expected, especially if Paraguay somehow manages to score first. But Spain will not be surprised. The Iberians have grown with each game and might start to peak at the right moment, which could be a problem not only for Paraguay, but also for all the remaining contenders.