Spain's incurable romantics on song at last

JOHANNESBURG - Spain showed they are the World Cup's incurable romantics on Monday, confounding Honduras with a performance of breathtaking skill while exhibiting a tendency to over-elaborate that could prove their fatal flaw.

Despite the criticism that greeted their 1-0 defeat by Switzerland in the opening game, Spain were true to their philosophy in a 2-0 win at Ellis Park, passing this way and that, staying patient as they probed for weakness.

The difference this time was simply that David Villa rediscovered his devastating touch in front of goal - at least until he casually sent a penalty wide when a hat-trick was there to be completed.

His first goal came from an outrageous piece of skill, as he ghosted by defender Osman Chavez before curling a shot into the far corner.

The second had a touch more luck about it, with a deflected shot early in the second half flying past keeper Noel Valladares, but his all-round performance would have deserved the hat-trick he denied himself with a dreadful spot-kick.

Victory, and a performance that brought gasps from the crowd at times, means they should go into their final game against group leaders Chile brimming with the sort of self-confidence that took them surging to victory at Euro 2008.

Yet for all the perfection of Xavi's geometric passing, Villa's brilliance and the authority shown by Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets in the holding midfield roles, there is a nagging doubt that better organised sides will punish their profligacy.

It was not just because of the penalty miss, or the fact that Fernando Torres, still not quite at his sharp best as he completes his recovery from injury, failed to convert the stream of chances that came his way.

It was also the sight of Xavi, Villa and the winger Jesus Navas trying between them to walk the ball into the net in the second half when a more direct approach would surely have brought them many more goals against a rival they out-classed.

For now, Spain can be satisfied that they have momentum after doing something no other European team has done at this World Cup and beating a rival from Latin America.

Looking towards Chile and beyond, if they are to live up to their pre-tournament billing as favourites they may have to take a leaf out of Dunga's Brazil playbook, develop the ability to play ugly when required and complicate matters a little less.

Spain were so superior to all their rivals at the last European Championship that even when the tip-tap passing proved more aesthetically pleasing than effective no one could punish them.

At the World Cup, they may find that playing to the gallery is a much more dangerous game.

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