Football: Clemente confident of strength in depth

SPAIN'S COACH, Javier Clemente, and his team head into their opening World Cup game against Nigeria in Nantes today on the back of an astonishing record which has left them supremely confident.

But the Spaniards are perennial under-achievers, with a fourth-place finish in 1950 still their best performance in nine previous finals appearances, while they were quarter-finalists in 1986 and 1994.

There is a feeling in the Spanish camp, though, that this may be their year, despite the fact they have been drawn in a tough group with the 1994 semi-finalists, Bulgaria, and Paraguay.

Clemente's record with the Spaniards is remarkable. Since he took over in 1992, his team have lost only three times in 54 matches and qualified for France 98 unbeaten.

Clemente has worked hard to establish a sense of unity in a squad that contains many individual stars. "I've always wanted to put a real team together and I think I've got that right now," he said. "I have the feeling that we have strength in numbers.

"Individuals are important in certain situations, but what is important is that every player knows what is necessary for the good of the team. The current side have a winning mentality. They are born winners."

In Lyons this afternoon South Korea have their best chance to shed the World Cup finals' most unwanted record - 10 matches without a win - when they play their fellow outsiders, Mexico.

The Mexicans' confidence has been hit by a dismal warm-up programme and they face highly motivated opponents who are determined to win their first finals game ahead of the 2002 World Cup, which South Korea is co-hosting with Japan.

"This is our fourth successive World Cup but we have never won a match, so for that reason the game against Mexico is a decisive one for us," said Cho Chung-yun, the general secretary of the South Korean Football Association.

Mexico's coach, Manuel Lapuente, is being guarded following a run of bad results that culminated last month in a 5-2 loss in Norway and a humiliating 4-1 defeat to a German club side, VfL Wolfsburg.

In today's other Group E fixture at the Stade de France, the Dutch, the scorers of 10 goals in their last two games, are up against against a Belgian side thirsting for revenge after their humiliation in the World Cup qualifying competition.

Belgium were beaten twice in qualifiers by their neighbours, whose first- choice front line of Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp, when fully fit, and Marc Overmars is probably the most potent at the finals.

A lot of Belgian pride is at stake but their coach, Georges Leekens, insists he is already looking past the Dutch game to Mexico a week later.

"I've always said `Mexico, Mexico, Mexico' ever since the World Cup draw," Leekens said. `If we beat Mexico and South Korea, we qualify for the second round. The rest is just a bonus."

For his part, the Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, is having a hard time convincing an ebullient public back home that his side are not certainties for the second round - and maybe a lot further. He was concerned by a drab 0-0 draw with Cameroon but after two 5-1 wins in subsequent friendlies, over Paraguay and Nigeria, he seems concerned that the mood may have swung too far the other way.

"The Belgians are much cannier, much more cunning," he said - and he is probably right.

The Belgians are also a better side than the one the Dutch beat 3-0 and 3-1 in qualifying. Their defence is likely to be much tighter despite the absence of the man-marker Gordan Vidovic through injury. Up front, the pairing of Fiorentina's Luis Oliveira and PSV Eindhoven's Luc Nilis are fit and in form.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week