Europe tightens grip on cup


JOHANNESBURG, July 5 – David Villa and Miroslav Klose confirmed they are among the finest football predators as the chances of a first European World Cup triumph outside the continent rocketed this weekend.Netherlands are favoured to defeat Uruguay in the first semi-final Tuesday while Spain and Germany clash a day later in an intriguing repeat of the 2008 Euro final settled by a Fernando Torres strike.

Torres is having a bittersweet tournament as he helps Spain move within two victories of a first World Cup title while unable to regain the scoring touch that made him feared.

There were neither goals nor glory for reigning World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi of Argentina, whose team suffered a humiliating 4-0 loss to Germany which cast doubts over the future of coach Diego Maradona.

A Villa goal seven minutes from full-time broke the resistance of well drilled Paraguay in Johannesburg after Klose twice, Thomas Mueller and Arne Friedrich had scored for rampant Germany in Cape Town.

Mueller will miss the Spanish showdown because a caution triggered a one-match ban but coach Joachim Loew says the absence of the four-goal youngster will not hamper a country seeking its fourth world title.

"This will be a blow for us given the goal threat Thomas has posed in South Africa, but we have players who can replace him and we will manage," stressed the 50-year-old who assisted Juergen Klinsmann at the last World Cup.

Villa became the leading scorer in the tournament with five after an effort that went in off a post and needs one more to match the 44-goal Spanish record of Raul Gonzalez.

"Finishing top scorer is the least of my concerns. The important thing is that we get to the final whether through me scoring or someone else. I’m happy to score but I’m happier if the team wins," stressed Villa.

The close-season Barcelona signing from Valencia is also the top Spanish World Cup scorer with eight goals, leaving Emilio Butragueno, Fernando Hierro, Fernando Morientes and Raul in his wake.

Oscar Cardozo and Xabi Alonso had penalties saved and Nelson Valdez a goal controversially disallowed as much-changed Paraguay kept Spain in check until some slick Spanish passing created space for Villa.

Klose belongs to the David Villa fan club although they are rivals for a place in the July 11 final and the Golden Boot awarded to the leading tournament scorer with the Spaniard holding a five-to-four advantage.

"Villa is an extraordinary player. I have always watched him and I’m happy to see him join Barcelona, a club which will suit him. He is very clever, good on the left and the right," said Klose.

"He has great qualities. He is like Lionel Messi and it needs the whole team to work together to keep him quiet. When he is one on one, he can be very dangerous."

Klose celebrated a century of international appearances by raising his World Cup goal haul to 14 against Argentina – one less than record-holder Ronaldo of Brazil with a third-place play-off or final to come after facing Spain.

"I hope Ronaldo is not worried by it," joked the German who scored five goals in the 2002 tournament, another five in 2006, and four in South Africa despite missing one game after being red carded against Serbia.

"I chatted to Ronaldo after the 2002 final and never thought then I would be in this situation. To need just two more goals to go past his record is just crazy," admitted Klose.