Vintage Spain finally enter the fray

Durban: Spain will enter the World Cup fray with a swagger despite question marks over the fitness of Fernando Torres and Andres Iniesta when they face Switzerland in their opening Group H match on Wednesday.

Their squad is so stuffed full of talent that anything but a comfortable win for the European champions will be considered something of a shock when the last two teams in the tournament finally get their campaigns underway.

Having broken their major tournament hoodoo at Euro 2008, Spain’s consistent defence, startlingly talented midfield and corps of lethal strikers have made them the favourite of many to carry off football’s biggest prize in South Africa.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque will probably not risk Torres, who is recovering from knee surgery, and play David Villa as a lone striker in front of a five-man midfield.

Andres Iniesta looks likely to win his race to recover from a thigh strain and take his place in that midfield but with quality like Cesc Fabregas or Villa’s Valencia team mate Juan Mata on standby, Del Bosque may not be unduly worried.

Workmanlike Swiss

In their opening match at the Moses Mabhida stadium (1400 GMT) they meet a workmanlike Swiss team which has had a poor run-up to the tournament and will be without their leading goalscorer and captain Alex Frei.

The Swiss will also be missing midfielder Valon Behrami because of a thigh injury while Frei’s ankle injury means Eren Derdiyok will partner Blaise Nkufo up front if coach Ottmar Hitzfeld sticks with his favoured 4-4-2 formation.

“They are a very compact team. At the last World Cup they went home without a win but they had a very good qualifying campaign this time,” Del Bosque told Spanish television.

“They have been playing together for many years and in my opinion have many qualities.”

Switzerland did indeed recover from an early loss to Luxembourg in their qualifying campaign but they suffered three successive defeats in friendlies in the build-up to the World Cup and have never beaten the Spanish.

Spain had a 100 percent record in qualifying as they continued a run of form that has seen them lose just once in the last three years -- to the United States at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Talented Spain squads have flattered to deceive at previous World Cups but the 2010 vintage looks like having more than enough zip to get past the Swiss and ultimately out of a group that also features Chile and Honduras.

Bureau Report

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