Andres Iniesta, the only man to start every game of Spain's European Championship triumph, is ready to take his place at the heart of the midfield once again amid growing expectation back home that Vicente del Bosque's side will follow France in holding the world crown and the continental title at the same time.
The Barcelona playmaker injured his right leg during Spain's final warm-up game against Poland – a 6-0 victory that did nothing to dampen down what coach Del Bosque has termed the "extraordinary optimism" – but took a full part in an hour long training session at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban yesterday.
Del Bosque is expected to allow Fernando Torres further time to recover from the knee surgery that cut short his season with Liverpool. Instead he will play David Villa on his own ahead of a midfield quintet including three of the £35m striker's Barcelona team-mates, Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Iniesta, if Del Bosque decides to start him. "There's high expectations because of our trajectory over the past years, people see we can play well and that's positive," said Villa. "I wouldn't say it's pressure, it's more like flattery."
Iker Casillas, the captain who will win his 103rd cap in goal today, has no doubt as to what his team can achieve. "We come with a lot of hope and desire to be world champions. If we play our game then we can win it," he said yesterday. "All these players make this such a good team – it's more than a team, its a family like we've said a long time now. We're harvesting the fruit of what we sowed years ago."
Del Bosque, as any coach does, has struck a watchful note ahead of his side's opening game in Group H after his side swept into the finals with a perfect qualifying record and having suffered just a solitary defeat in three years. That came in South Africa, against the United States in last year's Confederations Cup, and it provides the necessary cautionary tale – as well, of course, as Spain's underwhelming World Cup record; a best placed fourth in 1950.
"There's extraordinary optimism. But many make it sound like Spain has a direct route to the final and it's not like that," said Del Bosque, who has overseen 25 wins in the 26 games of his tenure since replacing Luis Aragones following the European Championship triumph in Vienna two years ago.
"We're not on this highway of thought that everyone seems to be on. If you want to achieve something you have to achieve it with work and by being a great athlete. It's difficult to get away from the view of the outside. There is an optimism as if we were going to play the World Cup final now. But fortunately, we have players that are aware of the reality and not of utopia. Players that know what football is like."
The sense that Spain are looking beyond their opening game is heightened by their record against the Swiss, who they have never lost to in 18 meetings. If Iniesta is kept out of the action in Durban – and Del Bosque says he will make the decision on doctor's orders: "We have to think about the future, not just about tomorrow" – then Cesc Fabregas is his likely replacement and the Arsenal midfielder has taken the memento mori role, warning his team of their mortality.
"We're a regular team, like all, and we need to go little by little," he said. "When we won the Euro nobody was talking about us. You have to be humble, work little by little, and only concentrate on the first game and we'll see what happens. Group classification is the only importance."
There are two sides in this game
Switzerland have been cast as makeweights and with Alex Frei, their captain and record goalscorer, and the busy Valon Behrami both out injured, they have been given next to no chance of causing a mighty upset. Here, after all, is a side that managed to suffer a qualifying defeat in Luxembourg. They do at least have the benefit of one of Europe's most experienced coaches in Ottmar Hitzfeld, who has twice won the European Cup, including masterminding Borussia Dortmund's improbable success against Juventus in 1997. "In my opinion, they have many qualities," claimed Del Bosque. The rest of the world remains to be convinced.Reuse content