The Kid is now a man on a mission

Last Updated 10 July 2010, 14:50 IST
The Kid  is now a man on   a mission

In the second round of the World Cup, David Villa of Spain bore in on the Portuguese goalkeeper, shooting with his left leg, reaching for the rebound with his right leg, punching the ball into the net with the same versatility in his feet that a boxer has in his fists.

While Didier Drogba has gone home with a broken arm, and Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi have departed with shattered expectations, it is Villa who is tied for the lead in the tournament with five goals, putting Spain into the final for the first time.
“He is in a state of grace, as it were,” Vicente del Bosque, Spain’s coach, said on Tuesday of Villa after his side beat Praguay 1-0 in the quarterfinals. “He has scored whenever he wants.”

Well, almost. There could be, should be, six goals instead of five, but Villa somehow sent a penalty shot wide in the first round on a failed bid for a third goal against Honduras, leaving his face full of shock and disgust. Otherwise, he has been clever and predatory, sliding ecstatically on his knees in celebration, saluting fans with a matador’s wave, the soul patch on his chin suggesting jazzy improvisation and rapacious intent.
“He is extremely skilled technically, excellent one on one, very fast,” Joachim Loew, Germany’s coach, said of Villa. “When it comes to finishing his chances, he’s almost second to none.”
Even Villa’s nickname, the Kid, conjures a gunslinger’s quick shot and threatening audacity.

“David is very self-assured,” the Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso said. “He’s been a menace for every defense so far. He is the reference when it comes to our attack. We hope he can keep doing it to the final, and others can follow his good performance.”
Spain’s most visible striker, Fernando Torres, scored the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Germany in the final of the 2008 European championship but has gone silent here, not yet having gained his form and confidence after having two knee operations this year. His knee is stable but his reliability is not, leading to much speculation and opinion about whether Torres will be benched for the final as he was in the semis.
Villa has spoken supportively of Torres, appreciative of the way he serves as a kind of cursor, dragging defenders and goalkeepers away, leaving space for him to dart between two opponents the way Villa did for a spectacular goal against Honduras with his right foot, or to curve a shot into an open net from 40 yards the way he did against Chile with his left foot.

Such dexterity was born of necessity after Villa broke his right femur as a four-year-old in the Asturian mining village of Tuilla. With his right leg plastered in a cast, Villa insisted on continuing to play soccer, so his father taught him how to use his left leg.
“He would be there throwing me the ball over and over,” Villa told The Guardian of London. “I can barely remember a single training session when my dad wasn’t there.”
At 28, Villa has scored a remarkable 43 goals in 64 appearances for Spain -- one shy of tying the national team record held by Raul -- along with 160 goals in 258 club matches in La Liga over the past five seasons.

He was the leading scorer at the 2008 European championship (even though he missed the final). He and Torres led Spain with three goals apiece at the 2006 World Cup. Here in South Africa, Villa has scored all but two of Spain’s goals, most recently pinging the ball off both goal posts in a 1-0 victory over Paraguay in the quarterfinals as his team-mates dog-piled on top of him in rapturous liberation.

“I’m happy with my five goals because they’ve been decisive,” Villa said. “It’s different when you win by a lot of goals. It doesn’t hold the same feeling as winning this way.”
After the World Cup, Villa will join Barcelona in La Liga, Spain’s top league. But until now, he never played for the biggest clubs, and seldom in the biggest club competitions, as he moved from Sporting de Gijon to Real Zaragoza to Valencia. Yet he has repeatedly distinguished himself when called to play for his country. The stage and the spotlight have inspired and elevated instead of diminished.  “He hasn’t played for the big clubs, so we haven’t seen the real Villa until now,” said Damian Lopez, a reporter for Rac 1 radio in Barcelona. “In the World Cup, he is being discovered. Unlike a lot of strikers, he doesn’t have to receive the ball with his back to the goal. He can face the goalkeeper and make a play for himself.”

Loew conceded on Tuesday that Spain was the World Cup team with the “most stringent organisation and best firepower.”
If Germany’s 4-0 victory over Argentina was any indication, its midfield will try to squeeze Xavi, Spain’s playmaker, and attempt to rush forward in a blistering counterattack.
Except for its opener against Switzerland, though, Spain has always found a response with the steeliness of Villa.  “He is very clever, good on the left and on the right,” Miroslav Klose, a German forward who has four goals, said.
“He is like Lionel Messi -- it takes a whole team to work together to keep him quiet. When he is one on one, he can be very dangerous.”

(Published 10 July 2010, 14:50 IST)

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