Spanish Armada gears up for South Africa


Express May 20, 2010

Spain have a justified reputation for being underachievers on the big stage and have never won the World Cup but the feeling is that the 2010 event in South Africa offer their best chance of finally winning football’s ultimate prize.

After 44 years without a trophy, Spain defeated Germany 1-0 to win Euro 2008 in Austria and that appears to have given them the extra self-belief that was perhaps missing in the past. Spain had a flawless 10 wins in the qualifying campaign and also made history by equalling Brazil’s record of 35 consecutive games unbeaten - including 15 straight wins as part of a sequence that stretched from February 2007 to June 2009 - before losing 2-0 to the United States in the 2009 Confederations Cup semi-finals.

The confidence from the European championship triumph and current form - which saw them go top of the world rankings for the first time - means Spain go to the World Cup as one of the major favourites for the title along with Brazil.

At their peak

It is seen as Spain’s golden generation of players and the sheer strength in depth gives coach Vicente del Bosque pleasant selection headaches all over the pitch. Spain follow the Barcelona blueprint of a possession game to dominate and frustrate their opponents while also possessing the firepower to hurt the opposition where it counts. In goal, captain Iker Casillas is viewed as one of the best goalkeepers in world football and has 102 caps despite being just 28 while Barcelona duo Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol form a formidable central defence pairing in front of Casillas.

Spain have had a miserly defence conceding just five goals in qualifying. It is in midfield where Spain are particularly blessed with the pin-point passing of Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso and Barcelona’s Xavi while Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta of Barcelona provide the cutting edge with their incisive slide-rule passes. In attack they have two of the best strikers on the planet in Barcelona’s new signing David Villa and Liverpool marksman Fernando Torres.

Draw dilemmas

The only major concern for del Bosque is injuries to key players with Torres, Fabregas and Iniesta all missing the latter part of the season through injury. Unfortunately for Spain the draw has not been kind and if, as expected, they come through a group of Switzerland, Chile and Honduras, del Bosque’s side could run into Portugal, Ivory Coast or worse still, Brazil at the last 16 stage.

Spain are a seasoned World Cup team and have not missed a finals since failing to qualify for Germany in 1974 although their best finish was fourth place at the 1950 finals in Brazil. Spain have not managed to go past the quarter-final stage ever since, even when they hosted the tournament in 1982, and lost 3-1 to eventual finalists France at the last 16 stage at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 21st, 2010.

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