After Europe, Spain now set to conquer the World
Madrid: Spanish football and jinx have long gone hand-in-hand at the national team`s level. But after beating the spirits and claiming the Euro 2008 title, Vicente del Bosque`s Spain are ready to finally win the World Cup.
Spain ended a 44-year European title drought in Switzerland and Austria in 2008 with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva setting up the likes of David Villa and Fernando Torres for some entertaining and high quality football.
The 2008 winners climaxed a recent push by Spanish football leaders to give an emphasis to versatile ball-players who can dominate possession and create countless chances with their slick, patient passing game.
In the 1990s, Spain manager Javier Clemente seemed obsessed with building a physically strong team around big men like Fernando Hierro, Miguel Angel Nadal and Julio Salinas. But this heavyweight team won nothing and impressed nobody.
The 2008 architect, Luis Aragones, bolted shortly after winning his title and handed the reins over to del Bosque, who wisely kept much of the same strategies and principles of the Euro winning side.
And now, La Roja are ready to shine on the world`s biggest stage - as they are drawn in Group H with Switzerland, the Honduras and Chile.
“We`re dreaming of lifting the trophy. It must be an incredible feeling,” Real Madrid defender Raul Albiol told the FIFA website recently.
“We have the enthusiasm, belief and desire, and we`ve also got a winning mentality. And aside from the quality of players we have, our team spirit, togetherness and the good atmosphere in the dressing room are all a real plus.”
Del Bosque`s men certainly showed their dominance during the 2010 qualification campaign, winning all 10 games in Group 5 and leaving behind them Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey and Belgium. Spain scored 28 goals and gave up just 5 with their ace keeper and captain Iker Casillas between the posts.
Spain, however, have yet to reach the World Cup semi-finals though they finished fourth overall at the 1950 World Cup, which ended with a group stage. The Iberians have advanced to the quarters in 1934, 1986, 1994 and 2002, getting bounced in the Round of 16 at Germany 2006.
Del Bosque was dealing with some injuries to key players late in the club season as Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas suffered a broken fibula while Liverpool striker Fernando Torres had knee surgery.
Other injury concerns included Andres Iniesta, Villareal and Marcos Senna.
And while the success at Euro 2008 may cause some to be overconfident, Albiol said this Spain ground has and will remain grounded.
“We kept our feet on the ground ahead of every game in World Cup qualifying, and we`ll be treating the World Cup in the same way. If we do get knocked out it will be because our opponents were better on that day, not because we were big-headed,” said Albiol.
“On paper we`re the favourites, but you have to prove that on the pitch ... Nobody is going to make it easy for us, we`re going to have to work really hard.”
The coach: Vicente del Bosque, 59, was an elegant midfielder for Real Madrid in the 1970s. He was promoted from the back room to become Real coach in 1999 and proved to be a surprise success, winning two Champions Leagues and two Spanish Ligas before being harshly sent packing in 2003.
He is popular with the players because of his calm, low-key approach, and unlike the volatile Lius Aragones manages to handle the media with dignified aplomb.
The star: New Barcelona signing David Villa, 28, is one of Planet Football`s sharpest strikers. Small, fast and imaginative, always trying to defy the opposition`s offside trap, he is capable of pulling apart even the most solid defence.
He started out at Sporting Gijon, moved on to Zaragoza in 2003, helped them to win the King`s Cup in 2004 then signed for Valencia in 2005. Villa guided Los Ches to cup success in 2008 was frequently seemed frustrated at the club`s sporting and financial problems in recent years. He came close to joining Barcelona in 2009 before eventually making the switch at the end of the 2010 season.
He scored three goals at the 2006 World Cup and four at Euro 2008, becoming the tournament`s top scorer, though he missed the final with a pulled muscle.