| 13°C Belfast

Alonso curbs Spain's enthusiasm

Xabi Alonso is desperate to play down the "euphoria" already engulfing Spain's World Cup campaign as they seek to add the trophy to their Euro 2008 triumph.

Spain overcame Iberian rivals Portugal with a narrow 1-0 victory in their last-16 clash in Cape Town last night.

David Villa's second-half strike was enough to propel them towards a quarter-final clash with unfancied Paraguay and within two matches of the showpiece final.

Midfielder Alonso, however, is concerned about the attitude back home.

"We have been very patient and have been clever enough not to rush into things, we let the goal against Portugal come at the right moment, without any panicking," he said. "After the goal, we had more spaces to play our game.

"We are still a long way from the semis, we definitely have to ignore the euphoria in the country and the fact that people already see us playing in the semis. "The next match is Paraguay and this is the only thing we have to focus on."

Coach Vicente Del Bosque was similarly cautious. However, the boss does believe his side are still riding the crest of a wave following their illuminating triumph at Euro 2008. "Over the last two years we have been showing our potential," said Del Bosque, who inherited the side from Luis Aragones following their success in Austria and Switzerland. "It is two years since we won the Euros and that was a huge boost. We continued with same approach as the previous coach and players.

"We will always continue with the lines set out two or so years ago."

Last night's win at Green Point Stadium came two years to the day since Spain lifted the European crown.

Del Bosque's side dominated on the ball as usual but had been frustrated for long periods by Portugal, who had decent chances of their own.

Ultimately Spain's patience paid off, however, as Villa's 63rd-minute goal secured victory and a scrap with Paraguay. They will now fancy themselves in a quarter-final clash with the modest South Americans while Portugal - who had Ricardo Costa dismissed in the final minute - face a disappointing trip home.

Centre-back Gerard Pique believes the team are picking up momentum as the tournament goes on, having suffered a shocking start when they lost to Switzerland.

"I think we are playing better since tournament started," said the Barcelona defender. "In every game we get better and against Portugal we played a really good game.

"David Villa is on fire and he scored another goal which is really good news for us.

"I think we've got so many players with a lot of quality you can then control the game and it's easier to win.

"Sometimes, like the day against Switzerland, you have chances but you can't score the goal and the opposition has one go and scores. That is football and it's why sometimes the best teams don't win."

Pique offered words of support to Fernando Torres, who has looked out of sorts in attack following a knee injury and was taken off before the goal against Portugal.

"He needs time," said Pique. "I think he had two operations and it's always difficult for a player to come back from that situation.

"He has been getting better with every game. He is a really important player for us."

Belfast Telegraph