Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Spain's big chance for glory

Published:Saturday | April 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM
David Villa (left) and Fernando Torres. - AP Photos
Xavi Hernandez
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MADRID (AP):

Spain will head into the World Cup in South Africa confident that the team's recent success will spur a long-awaited breakthrough on the international stage.

The European champions travel to the tournament after a successful run that includes a 2008 European Championship victory that snapped a 44-year drought in major championships.

"There is a lot of pressure - particularly on our players in terms of their club football before the World Cup - but there is a lot of optimism in Spain," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "It's a nice moment for Spanish football.

"Let's see if we can harness our Euro momentum and use it at the World Cup, even though we know it gets harder and harder to win because we'll be up against more difficult rivals."

Spain's team is built around a Barcelona team that won a record six club trophies in one-calendar year, so expectations are probably higher than ever.

FANTASTIC PLAYERS

"They have some absolutely fantastic players and there's no doubt they play some lovely football. To my mind, Spain are the best team in the world today," said Argentina forward Lionel Messi, who plays for Barcelona. "No one looks as secure as them. They have so much confidence right now and that's essential for any team going into a major tournament."

Confidence comes from having Fernando Torres, David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and goalkeeper Iker Casillas in the starting line-up. And being drawn into one of the easier groups, with Switzerland, Chile and Honduras in Group H.

"South Africa 2010 is our big chance and we don't want to waste it," Torres said. "Whoever we face in the round of 16 will be fearsome, whether we finish first or second."

Torres will be looking to shed a forgettable season at Liverpool where he spent most of his time on the sidelines due to various injuries. The 25-year-old striker should at least be well rested from knee surgery when Spain play their opening World Cup match against Switzerland on June 16 in Durban.

The manner in which Spain go into the tournament is also providing a boost. The team has only dropped one game since a 1-0 friendly loss to Romania in November 2006 - a 2-0 setback against the United States at last year's Confederations Cup.

"That defeat did us good by helping us realise that the road to the World Cup wasn't going to be easy, but that we had to stay on track," Torres said. "And what better way to do that than winning 10 games in a row in qualifying. We've now recovered any confidence that we may have lost that day against the United States."

FEARED ATTACK

With Villa also up front, Spain's attack is one of the most feared in Europe. Villa is also closing in on Raul Gonzalez's record total of 44 goals for the team. The Spaniard has scored 35 goals in only 53 appearances, compared to the Real Madrid striker's 102 matches played.

Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso anchor Spain's midfield, while Marcos Senna's unsteady form at struggling Villarreal has left question marks over whether Del Bosque will pick the 33-year-old naturalised Brazilian, a key member of the Euro 2008 run.

Jesus Navas could replace oft-injured Santi Cazorla, although the Sevilla winger's anxiety problems could result in his sublime mix of pace and skill being left at home.

SHAKY DEFENCE

Spain's weakest point might be their back four.

Centre back Gerard Pique is one of the best in the world at his position, but Spain's defence can be shaky even with Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos in the line-up. Left back Joan Capdevila has also had a poor season at Villarreal, with Real Madrid pair Alvaro Arbeloa and Raul Albiol inconsistent and several other options inexperienced.

But even if it all comes together for Spain, Del Bosque isn't thinking ahead.

"We can't start thinking about a Brazil final because it will be very difficult and it would show a lack of humility," Del Bosque said. "Every rival is going to make things difficult for us."