Villa leaves it late to sink Sweden

Villa leaves it late to sink Sweden

David Villa struck two minutes into stoppage time as Spain defeated a stubborn Sweden 2-1 at the Stadion Tivoli Neu in Innsbruck to virtually guarantee their presence in the UEFA EURO 2008ї quarter-finals. ( )

Leading scorer The game had looked like ending in a draw after Zlatan Ibrahimovic's second goal in as many games had wiped out Fernando Torres's 15th-minute opener on a chilly evening in the Austrian Alps. Yet Villa, the scorer of a hat-trick in the opening triumph over Russia, had other ideas as he raced on to Joan Capdevila's pass and dispatched it low into the net. It moved Spain three points clear at the section summit and himself in front as the tournament's leading scorer.

No surprise Spain coach Luis Aragones surprised no one by selecting the same XI that had started the Russia game, but there were only hints of the devastating fluidity of that 4-1 win as Sweden hustled and harried effectively. Ibrahimovic could even have given Lars Lagerback's side the lead inside the opening minute only for the FC Internazionale Milano striker's normally assured touch to escape him when well placed inside the box.

Lunging in Spain, playing towards the red-and-yellow masses of their supporters behind Andreas Isaksson's goal, did give flashes of the form which has seen them billed as potential champions. Andres Iniesta's snaking run and strike had already had the Swedish goalkeeper scrambling, but Isaksson was powerless as Torres poked the Iberians in front on the quarter-hour. Villa threw the Swedish defence off balance as he unexpectedly flicked a short corner to David Silva, and the left midfielder had time to angle a ball to Torres who lunged in to turn in his first UEFA European Championship goal.

Frailties exposed The Swedish riposte was almost instant, Johan Elmander ruffling the side-netting after he had latched on to a delightful Henrik Larsson flick. It was a warning to Spain though and ї after the injured Carles Puyol had been replaced by Raul Albiol on 24 minutes ї their defensive frailties were again exposed. Elmander's searching ball from the right found Ibrahimovic unmarked at the far post, and though he again failed to control cleanly, a slip by Sergio Ramos allowed him to turn and fire low past Iker Casillas via a deflection.

Bravely blocked With Ibrahimovic failing to emerge for the second half, Sweden lost momentum, and it was Spain who threatened to break the deadlock soon after the hour. Silva and Villa's neat interchange of passes led to the former's shot being parried by Isaksson, who then took a nasty blow in the face as he bravely blocked Villa's follow-up. As the Sweden No1 lay grounded, Torres had sent a left-footed drive goalwards but Daniel Andersson made a timely block. Isaksson recovered sufficiently to brilliantly turn behind Marcos Senna's low drive in the 68th minute as Spain poured forward.

Late drama Though the game was being played exclusively in their half, Sweden could have grabbed a late winner as Peter Hansson turned a free-kick back across the goal where Larsson arrived just too late to turn it in. Instead the glory went to Villa, leaving Spain as the likely winners of a section also featuring Russia and Greece.

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