Can Spain inflict real pain?

spainteam

Spain need to defy history, expectations, tiring legs and tough route to win their first ever World Cup

In this preview series, there has been considerable stress on history. Whilst there is always a first time for everything, we can’t help look beyond the fact that the current best team of the world, Spain, would need to defy history to win FIFA 2010 world cup.
– In six previous world cups, only Brazil in 2002 and West Germany in 1990 were the best teams of the event – every other winner were ones who got the easier half of the draw (including Diego Maradona’s 1986 team).
– In World Cup’s overall history there has never been an instance when a European team has won a world cup outside Europe.

Lets try looking at the present

– If group stages go as per seeding Spain’s knockout opponents would be Portugal, Italy, Argentina and Brazil – the toughest possible draw anyone could get at South Africa – a perfect medicine for injuries, suspensions.
– The core of the reds comes from Barcelona, the club which was involved in six competitions over the last 9 months, and their arch rivals Real Madrid, who chased La Liga race all the way to last match day. Towards the last third of the Barcelona season, there were signs of fatigue and they had to depend on a certain “El Messiah” to bail them out time and again.
– The fan expectations have reached the sky, being used to cheering the La Furia to 46 wins off their last 47 games. If Spain doesn’t feature in the final match day, it would be deemed a failure.

The expectations shouldn’t perturb the players much. They should have got used to the ‘favorites’ tag before every event. They should have also got used to sharing the ‘perennial underachievers’ tag (with England), after every event. Three first round exits (WC 98, Euro 88, Euro 04) and similar number of Quarterfinal jinxes (WC 02, Euro 96, Euro 00) speak up.

Yet, the Spanish Armada stands out an out favorite, unarguably, and backed by numbers. Columnist Sid Lowe recently wrote “Raúl is often declared the finest Spanish footballer ever, certainly their best goalscorer. Yet David Villa is now only seven behind him. Having played 46 games fewer. If Torres is fit, Fàbregas doesn’t get in the side and few complain. Mikel Arteta never gets in the squad and no one has even noticed.”

Sid further adds “The stats are uncontestable. At the end of the previous friendly, against Saudi Arabia, the defender Carlos Marchena broke the world record, surpassing Garrincha by going 50 internationals unbeaten. Spain won 10 out of 10 in World Cup qualifying – the first team ever to do so – and have lost only one of their last 47 matches. They have won 36 of their last 37. Including beating Italy, Argentina, France and England. Twice. During the France match, the St Denis fans started olé-ing the opposition’s every touch.”

Add to the stats, between November 2006 to June 2009, Spain were undefeated for a record tying 35 consecutive games, including a world record 15 games winning streak. What Sid missed in this piece was the way the team is ever growing. Torres of 2006 is Tornado of 2010. Xavi is now undoubtedly the best passer of the ball, and, Iniesta is close to matching him. Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes made it to the squad, as third choice. Cesc Fabregas carried Arsenal singlehandedly for more than half the 2009-2010 season. Manchester United reject of 2006, Gerard Pique, was Barcelona’s best defender in 2009. Few weeks ago he broke an Inter Milan defense with the turn, dribble, style and finish of a seasoned centre forward.

In the friendly against France, played three months ago, the reds won 2-0 and safe to say the only time France got close to a clear shot at goal was when they were back passing to Hugo Lloris! Just to add, Xavi, Albiol, Torres and Senna didn’t start the game. French coach Raymond Domenech summarized his opposition later “They have exceptional talent, sacrificed for the collective good. They play without haste and yet they do so with intensity and intent. Their circulation of the ball is spectacular and the final pass from midfield is like a penalty for anyone else.” Move over Johan Cryuff, Spain play ‘total football’, even better.

Spain has the bench worthy of envy – Silva, Fabregas, Navas, Busquets, Pedro … and even coach Vicente De Bosque. The latter’s only concern area would be the importance of Villa and Torres – particularly “El Nino”, for two reasons. While the two frontmen will be the best strike force at the quadrennial showpiece; in Lorente, Mata and Pedro we are looking at work in progress strikers. Also one can’t help notice that most of La Furia’s midfield and attack are of similar height – and its not one which can have much aerial impact in set pieces. Hence Torres’s presence for all the key games makes it that much more essential.

An easy group should see them saunter past and help rotate/rest key players. After that they will have to play four finals. The pundit foresees some of the Spanish players injured, jaded during that phase – the number and extent would determine the progress. Semifinalists, for sure and that would be their best tournament performance in half a century; but not enough to appease Spanish fans, neutrals and football fans around the world. Simply put, only Spain can beat themselves, and we don’t want that to happen. Its time ‘Total Football’ won a world cup, “Total football version: 2010”

(Excerpts quoted from Sid Lowe’s preview of Spain. To read the full article kindly click on http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2010/jun/06/spain-world-cup)

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