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S. Africa, Spain through to semifinals

THE blaring vuvuzela trumpets and the dancing South African football fans will be partying all the way into the Confederations Cup semifinals.

South Africa managed to advance to the next round despite losing to Group A winner Spain 2-0 in Bloemfontein because Iraq was held to a 0-0 draw by New Zealand in Johannesburg.

Spain's win was its 15th in a row, and it was also the 35th straight game in which the European champion avoided defeat, equaling the record set by Brazil from 1993-96.

David Villa scored the first goal for Spain in the 52nd minute, only seconds after his penalty was saved by South Africa goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, and Fernando Llorente added the second in the 72nd.

"The important thing is we go to the semifinals," South Africa coach Joel Santana said. "It is important for the players. It is important for the people."

South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena took down Cesc Fabregas in the area to give away the penalty, and Villa stepped up to take it. But his shot was saved by a diving Khune, who then stopped a follow-up shot from Carles Puyol.

A minute later, however, Villa redeemed himself by scoring with his left foot and giving Spain a chance to break Brazil's 35-match unbeaten run with a victory in the semifinals.

"They're not No. 1 in the world for nothing," South Africa midfielder Steven Pienaar said. "If you're not well organized they can punish you and that's what happened today."

Bernard Parker, who scored both goals against New Zealand, played alone up front and created little, but Pienaar and Teko Modise were able to keep the Spanish defense from getting too complacent with flanking runs up the wings.

"They made it very difficult for us," Fabregas said. "Of the three games this was the most difficult. In football these days, you cannot let a team get on top of you. You have to dominate throughout the match and that's what we try to do."

The loss, however, didn't dampen the atmosphere at the Free State Stadium, where the crowd roared when the fans learned of the other result.

"The people have been unbelievable. It was marvelous support," Mokoena said. "I can only say thank you to fans. We cannot do it by ourselves. We need the support."

Villa again refused to answer questions about his club future on Saturday.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea are among the teams trying to lure the 27-year-old striker, and he believes it would be "impossible" to make up his mind about where he will next play after Valencia suddenly announced on Friday it did not want to sell him.

"I don't want to answer any questions over my future. More so because I don't want to cause any problems," Villa said after scoring for the third straight game. "I'm here, relaxed and happy and looking to get to the final by scoring more goals."

Brazil needs a draw against Italy to advance, while the world champions can be eclipsed by both Egypt and the United States.

Iraq, which held South Africa to a 0-0 draw in the tournament opener and just lost to Spain 0-1 in the second game, needed to win by two goals to have a realistic chance of advancing ahead of South Africa, but the Asian champions again failed to create much up front.

"Our boys gave it their all," Iraq coach Bora Milutinovic said. "We didn't win the match but we achieved a very interesting result and we proved that the players of Iraq could become competitive with time."

New Zealand, like Iraq, failed to score a goal in three matches in South Africa after surprisingly netting three in a 3-4 loss to Italy in a warm-up match.

After the match, New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert cheered his country's first-ever point at a FIFA competition. "I think tonight's another milestone for the country," Herbert said. "The team, I thought, were magnificent. We've never come to a tournament and gained a point and we've never come to a tournament and dominated a game."


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