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Spain beats Iraq 1-0 to reach semifinals

SPAIN earned its record-tying 14th straight win and a spot in the Confederations Cup semifinals by beating Iraq 1-0 yesterday.

David Villa slipped between two defenders and beat Iraq goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid for the only goal of the match in the 55th minute, sending Joan Capdevila's cross low and inside the right post for his 30th goal in his 46th international appearance. The Valencia striker moved into sole possession of second place in Spain's scoring charts, trailing only Raul Gonzalez's 44.

Spain matched Brazil, France and Australia as the only teams to win 14 straight games and is now within one game of matching Brazil's record 35-game unbeaten run. A victory against host South Africa in Spain's final Group A match would see it become the first team to win 15 straight in all competitions.

Spain, FIFA's top-ranked team, leads the group with six points, while Iraq still has one. South Africa moved closer to the second semifinal spot from the group by beating New Zealand 2-0 in Rustenburg in the late game.

"We never feared for the victory," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who refused to look beyond Saturday's match against South Africa. "It's hard to talk about the future when you have such wonderful things going on now."

Despite the loss, Iraq coach Bora Milutinovic was beaming after a near "perfect" performance.

"I'm very, very happy for the way my team played," the Serbian coach said. "Especially to play against a team like Spain in this way, when we didn't have so much time to prepare for this game."

Villa had headed another clear chance straight into the hands of Kassid two minutes before his goal as Spain finally overcame a stubborn Iraq team that denied the Spanish clear possession through the first half. Nine Iraqi players were often stacked behind the ball until Spain broke the deadlock.

"It wasn't easy to find our rhythm," Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso said. "We managed the goal but we suffered to get there."

Neither team started well on the sub-par field, with Iraq's defensive plan aided by Spain's early complacency.

"They played very intelligent and with great discipline," Milutinovic said of his team. "We played like that because these are the players we have."

Amid a constant blare of vuvuzela trumpets, Spain slowly began to come alive and Fernando Torres ran forward but the Liverpool striker couldn't reach Xavi Hernandez's well-read return ball.

"We knew it was going to be difficult," said Del Bosque, who has won all 12 games since replacing Luis Aragones last year. "We played by the book. That's what you have to do in these types of matches."

Villa volleyed Sergio Ramos' cross from the right into the side netting from a tight angle in the 25th for Spain's best first-half chance.

Villa's goal allowed Spain to play with usual ease aand brought the 30,512 fans to life as they roared for the final 20 minutes as Spain continued to press, with Kassid denying Juanma Mata after a superb lay-off in the 79th and Ramos sent a half-volley over the bar.

Nashat Akram tried one last time for Iraq, shooting wide from outside the area in the 88th but the Iraqis managed only one shot on goal. The Spanish ended up with 21 shots to Iraq's five.

Milutinovic said he believes his team still has a chance to advance to semifinals along with Spain. The Iraqis play New Zealand on Saturday.

"A football match is like life, you need a little bit of mathematics," the Serbian said. "The first game you can't lose, the second you do the best you can."


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