JOHANNESBURG — For decades Spain has approached the World Cup the way most high school freshmen approach algebra: They'll try, but they don't expect great results.
Spain has qualified for the tournament 10 times in the last 60 years. Seven times it came home after the first or second round. Once it entered as the reigning European champion yet won only one game.
But all that history is, well, history now. Because after its hard-fought 1-0 victory Saturday over stubborn Paraguay, Spain has advanced to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1950.
"This represents a great moment for Spanish football," coach Vicente del Bosque said.
Probably the best moment because the Spanish are once again European champions. For most of the past two years, they've been ranked No. 1 in the world, and they won all 10 of their World Cup qualifying matches, part of a 35-match unbeaten streak that stretched over nearly three years.
And now, thanks to David Villa's foot and a soft goalpost, Spain is a win away from the World Cup final. It will take a victory over Germany to get there, but let the Spaniards celebrate first.
Paraguay also was making history, although it took a strange route to get there. Appearing in the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time, Paraguay arrived undefeated despite going nearly 21/2 games without a goal. Then again, it hadn't given up a goal since its first game in group play three weeks ago — and both streaks nearly came to an end in a 60-second span early in the second half when both teams took penalty kicks.
After Spanish keeper Iker Casillas guessed correctly on Oscar Cardozo's attempt, Spain immediately pushed the ball up the field and Paraguay's Antolin Alcaraz knocked Villa down from behind. Xabi Alonso took the shot, nailing the back of the net. But a teammate had moved into the box too early, and Paraguayan keeper Justo Villar made a diving save on Alonso's second try, extending his scoreless-minutes streak to 386.
That streak ended when Villa found a friendly goalpost with seven minutes left in regulation. Andres Iniesta weaved through a tiring Paraguayan defense before feeding Pedro, whose shot struck the left upright and rebounded to Villa. His shot hit the right post and ricocheted across the goal line.