World Cup: It’s all lined up for Spain
If Spain is going to ever win its first World Cup title, this summer would seem the ideal time. After all, the Spaniards are atop the FIFA world rankings and they no longer have the tag of being underachievers after ending a 44-year drought at major tournaments by winning the 2008 European Championship. Spain was a perfect 10-for-10 in qualifying matches, and its only loss since November 2006 was that shocking 2-0 setback against the United States at last year's Confederations Cup which ended Spain’s record 35-match unbeaten run.
“We didn’t lose against the USA that day because of a lack of humility or because we got too big for our boots. The squad is humble and hard-working and even winning the Euro didn’t go to their heads,” said defenseman Raul Albiol.
On top of all that, the Spaniards appear to have by far the easiest draw for the World Cup, with Switzerland, Honduras and Chile joining Spain in Group H. Spain opens with the Swiss on June 16. The biggest threat to Spain in the group appears to be Chile, which finished second to Brazil in South American qualifying.
Good luck finding more talent on one team than Spain has with Fernando Torres, David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and goalkeeper Iker Casillas (possibly the best keeper in the world) in the starting lineup. It is widely considered the best Spanish team ever. Because Spain has so much depth, it should be able to withstand the injury to Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas, who suffered a broken right leg in a recent UEFA Champions League clash with Barcelona and will miss six week.
Fabregas, Arsenal's captain, had 19 goals in 36 games this season and should be back in time for the World Cup, but his fitness obviously may not be peak. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque will name his 23-man roster before final warm-up matches against Liechtenstein, South Korea and Poland in early June, and Fabregas wasn’t even a regular starter on the national team. That’s scary depth.
"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," del Bosque said. "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."
Assuming no problems in the first round, a very tough match with Brazil or Portugal would await in the knockout round.
"At this time, Spain is the best in Europe because they won the championship, and Brazil is the best team in Latin America,” Soccer great Pele said. But they are the two teams that have the least number of players with World Cup experience. Spain has never made it to a World Cup final, so they are good teams which haven't been put to the test yet."
Spain is currently 15/4 to win the World Cup at Bodog, with Brazil at 5/1. The Spaniards have been in the World Cup 12 times before yet never finished higher than fourth place, and that was in 1950. But now they wear the bulls-eye of being the team to beat and have the knowledge that no team that has ever won the European Championships was able to win the World Cup two years later.
"The players don't like that they've given us the role of favorites, but we understand the optimism is going to increase with this victory," Spain defender Sergio Ramos said of winning Euro 2008. "We have a very clear idea about what we are doing."