Spotlight on the World Cup contenders: Spain
Countdown to South Africa: 90 days to go
Saturday 13 March 2010
Sometimes, when a team wins a trophy after a long wait, they falter; not so the Spanish. The management may have changed following their Euro 2008 triumph, Vicente Del Bosque replacing Luis Aragones, but not the results.
Last week's fine win against France was their 22nd success in 23 matches since their victory in Vienna, the only exception being their shock semi-final defeat to the United States in last year's Confederations Cup in Bloemfontein.
That experience, both of playing in South Africa, and guarding against complacency, will stand them in good stead this summer and they are justified World Cup favourites. The tactics are familiar, but not easy to stop: rotate possession with short passes in midfield, pull defences around, then set up Fernando Torres or David Villa. To underline just how strong Spain are: Cesc Fabregas still cannot nail down a regular starting place, despite his continual flourishing at Arsenal (though he did play the first 45 minutes in Paris); Liverpool's Pepe Reina remains Iker Casillas's understudy in goal; and it is by no means guaranteed that both Villa and Torres will start.
Fine-tuning the starting XI, and filling the fringe squad places, are Del Bosque's only problems, with the determination of the tricky Seville winger Jesus Navas to conquer his homesickness adding an exciting option for the latter task. After his experience with Real Madrid, Del Bosque is even practised at working with a dressing room full of stars. Is there any succour for opponents? The back four are usually regarded as the weak link and Spain have conceded 11 goals in their last 10 games, keeping clean sheets against only Belgium, Estonia and France.
World ranking: 1.
World Cup Group: H (with Chile, Honduras, and Switzerland).
When might they meet England? SF.
Odds: 4-1 (Coral).
Pedigree: Fourth, 1950.
Last five results: Armenia W 2-1 (a), Bosnia W 5-2 (a), Argentina W 2-1 (h), Austria W 5-1 (a), France W 2-0 (a).
Upcoming fixtures: Liechtenstein (a, 29 May), South Korea (n, 3 June), Poland (h, 8 June).
One to watch: Jesus Navas.
Fan file: Expectant of another trophy following 42 wins in last 45 games.
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