Villa snatches late win over Swedes

Striker David Villa scored a superb stoppage-time winner to give Spain a 2-1 victory over Sweden on Saturday and a place in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked to have earned Sweden a share of the points with a 34th minute equaliser, after Spain had taken a deserved lead on 15 with a clever finish from Fernando Torres.

But Villa, who hit a hat trick in Spain’s opening 4-1 rout of Russia, secured the points with a classy close-range finish on the break in the second minute of stoppage-time.

The result gave Group D leaders Spain six points from two games and Greece’s 1-0 defeat by Russia in the day’s late kickoff assured Luis Aragones’s team a spot in the last eight.

Sweden and Russia, both on three points, will contest the other quarterfinal place when they meet on Wednesday while holders Greece are eliminated.

”Apart from 15 minutes when we got infected by playing the long-ball game, I think we were the better side,” Aragones told reporters. ”We were definitely the better side when we started playing with the ball the way we know.”

As for the dramatic finish, he added: ”Villa scored an incredible goal.”

Villa played down his contribution to Spain’s campaign, saying: ”The important thing is we’ve got six points from two games. It’s great I’ve kept scoring too but more important is the side are still winning.”

Sweden coach Lars Lagerback struggled with the disappointment of last-gasp defeat, saying: ”This is a bitter way to lose, with all respect to Spain.

”We were beaten by a goal out of nothing.”

Spain took the initiative early on at the Tivoli Neu stadium with Xavi marshalling the midfield and Torres giving full back Mikael Nilsson early problems with his surging runs.

Torres strikes
It came as little surprise when Spain took the lead, Torres getting in front of his man and steering the ball in with the sole of his boot after David Silva had clipped it into the area following a corner.

Largely deprived of possession, Sweden had to rely on isolated counter-attacks involving Fredrik Ljungberg and Ibrahimovic although Johan Elmander almost equalised a minute after Torres’s goal when he fired into the side netting.

Spain suffered a major setback when experienced centre back Carles Puyol was forced off through injury and replaced by Raul Albiol midway through the half. The Spanish Federation said he would undergo tests on Sunday to assess the damage.

Sweden responded by upping the pressure on the back four.

The tactic paid off 11 minutes before the break when Ibrahimovic controlled an Elmander cross at the second attempt, turned past full back Sergio Ramos and beat keeper Iker Casillas with an angled shot.

Lagerback took Ibrahimovic off at halftime and replaced the lanky striker, who has had a knee problem, with Markus Rosenberg.

After the break David Silva and Torres were denied during a goalmouth scramble and keeper Andreas Isaksson turned a rasping drive from Marcos Senna around the post.

A draw was on the cards until Villa’s late strike. – Reuters

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