The one-time dark horses are now indisputable favourites
Here we go again, then. We’ve reached that familiar point, the one that pops up every two years. At the start of every major tournament, the Spanish allow themselves, almost unwillingly, to believe that this year can at last be their year. And, at the end of every major tournament, they’re forced to face the truth that this year, like all those other years, wasn’t their year after all. At the start of every tournament everyone else says, “Spain? Yeah, maybe”. But at they same time they’re guffawing up their sleeves, adding: “No chance.” Once everyone’s dark horses, Spain have become a byword for failure. Yes, they might win it, but, no, they won’t…
Oh no, hang on. Sorry, my mistake. That was the old introduction – the file marked “Spain at a Major Tournament”. But that’s no use any more. It’s no longer valid. Spain are no longer doomed to failure. At long, long last they are the country who are every bit as good as they and we thought they were. Brilliant European champions too, winning in a way that was utterly incontestable.
Dark horses? Not any more. This time, Spain are favourites; proper favourites. Fernando Torres’ goal did not just bury Spain’s past, it opened up their future. It gave them an unshakable identity – something that has often been lacking – and a new mindset.
Spain believe now; the weight of history no longer drags them down. The media believes, the fans believe. There is a confidence and an excitement about the build-up. It’s not the first time but it is different, more real. This time clinching a first World Cup, not just having a good World Cup, seems genuinely possible. Some would say probable.
Fitness of Torres
Vicente Del Bosque, demonstrating typical reserve and calm, has urged caution. Being favourites, he says, is a “terrible trap”. And then there is the concern over the fitness of Torres, who missed the end of the season after surgery on his right knee. However, Spain’s low-key approach – and, Del Bosque hopes, their reverse at last summer’s Confederations Cup – should prevent cockiness.
Besides, Spain’s record is genuinely stunning. Since Andres Iniesta gave them a 1-0 win against England in 2007, Spain have played 45 games and lost once, winning 41 times, scoring 103 goals. They won 10 out of 10 in qualification, a record, and have been victorious in 33 of 34 competitive matches, as well as beating Argentina, England and France in friendlies – in Paris the French fans greeted them with olés, the French players with resigned shrugs. You just can’t get the ball off them.
This is a different Spain now. They no longer need to escape history. This time they can make history.
The view from Spain
“This is the best national team Spain has had in their entire history. There is one thing that could be problematic and that’s the injuries. If Torres isn’t ready, or Cesc doesn’t make it, or Marcos Senna and Andres Iniesta, who have both picked up injuries, aren’t fully fit, then that will be an important setback. But if they are all ready then this is a unique opportunity for Spain to win the World Cup. There has not been a generation of players like this before and I am not sure there will be one again.”
Emilio Butragueno, former Spain striker
“At long last, Spain are genuine favourites for the World Cup. They are on an incredible run of results and will be taking virtually the same squad of players that won the European Championship. The few changes they have made are not a problem either. Santi Cazorla will lose out to Jesus Navas but no one can doubt that he’s an exceptional player. The one thing that concerns me is the injuries that they might pick up. I am not sure if Spain will be at 100 per cent.”
Jose Emilio Amavisca, former Spain winger