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World Cup rankings: Spain’s star rising

By Martin Rogers, Yahoo! Sports

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

David Villa’s goal against Portugal pushed Spain into the quarterfinals.

(Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

PRETORIA, South Africa – David Villa is not even the richest and most famous player in Spain’s attacking line, let alone the Spanish team. Yet what Villa lacks in celebrity attraction he more than makes up with his performances on the field.

No player at this World Cup has been more productive than Barcelona’s new signing as Villa racked up the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Portugal that sent Spain hurtling toward the quarterfinals.

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With four goals and the most enterprising and innovative thinking of any man in the tournament, Villa is the primary reason why Spain has recovered from its dismal start to the World Cup to restore its place as one of the favorites.

The 28-year-old has exceptional feet with the ability to turn any defender and create shooting space for himself. While Liverpool star Fernando Torres has looked shaky alongside him, Villa has been the shining light that has given Spanish fans hope of going all the way to the July 11 final.

[Photos: See Spanish striker David Villa in action]

Brazil and Argentina are leading the charge for the South American nations as both showed exceptional form in the round of 16. However, the Spanish challenge has hit top gear over the last three games and cannot be ignored.

The latest round of our World Cup rankings ahead of the quarters sees Brazil retain its place in the No. 1 slot. As the tournament enters its most critical stage, anything can happen.

Yahoo! Sports’ World Cup rankings

1. Brazil (last ranking: 1) – Head coach Dunga has had his share of criticism, but he’s molded together a side that is producing a spectacular brand of soccer. Magnificent skills and attacking flair doesn’t stop them from being defensively resilient.

2. Spain (3) – That dismal opening defeat to Switzerland is now long forgotten and the Spaniards are starting to sense they can win back-to-back major tournaments. The European champion has steadily built momentum.

3. Argentina (2) – The Maradona show keeps on rolling and it is going to take something special to stop this juggernaut. Lionel Messi continues to impress and you sense this is a team with much improvement left in it.

4. Germany (6) – This young side has coped outstandingly without Michael Ballack, but a huge test lies ahead against Argentina. Miroslav Klose is at the peak of his powers and the team showed its counter-attacking threat by decimating England.

5. Netherlands (4) – The Dutch have looked typically stylish and efficient and will like their chances against Brazil. But Robin van Persie’s touchline argument with coach Bert Van Marwijk was a bad omen for a team that so often collapses mentally.

6. Uruguay (8) – Diego Forlan is far from being the only star on a side that owes just as much of its quarterfinal berth to Luis Suarez. Two-time champion Uruguay has grown in confidence with every game.

7. Ghana (13) – The last remaining African team has pride and passion on its side and is physically imposing. A great opportunity to become the first African semifinalist ever will undoubtedly spur the Black Stars on.

8. Paraguay (9) – The South Americans have somehow managed to scrape their way into the quarterfinals by scoring only three goals in four matches. The Paraguayans’ offense looked especially impotent against Japan.

Spain Vs Portugal (1-0) All Goals & full Highlights June 29 2010! Portugal vs Spain

Spain Vs Portugal (1-0) All Goals & full Highlights June 29 2010! Portugal vs Spain
Spain Vs Portugal (1-0) All Goals & full Highlights June 29 2010! Portugal vs Spain Espana V Portugal 2010 6/29/2010
Spain Vs Portugal (1-0) All Goals & full Highlights June 29 2010! Portugal vs Spain

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