SPAIN AIM TO REPEAT AS WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS
Spain will attempt to be the first country to win consecutive World Cups since Brazil in 1962, and with no European team ever winning in South America, that quest does not look easy. Still, as not only the reigning World Cup champions but also current European champions, Spain have shown they can go on a major international tournament winning streak. Perhaps incredibly, the buzz heading into Brazil 2014 has La Furia Roja flying under the radar just a bit.
WORLD CUP PROSPECTS
If they are flying under the radar, it's for two reasons: Spain are old, and they were demolished by Brazil in last summer's Confederations Cup finals. There's no guarantee that a bad Confeds Cup equals a bad World Cup - we all remember 2009, right? - but the Spaniards were simply never in the game with a Brazilian team that looked younger, fitter, faster and just better.
Will that change with a roster that has only two field players under the age of 25 and as many as six starters over 30? Soccer is a young man's game, and the World Cup group stage is a notorious meat grinder in terms of stamina.
Of course, it's also worth remembering that the ball has no lungs. If Spain are able to keep it and make it work for them as they did in their heyday, then they will conserve plenty of energy while wearing their opponents out. When that happens, they are nearly impossible to beat.
GROUP B SCHEDULE
STARS TO WATCH
Xavi, MF, Barcelona: The midfield maestro has been instrumental for Spain’s success in recent years, and featured in seven of eight qualifiers. Although he has racked up many miles in his career, his passing will be key to unlocking opponents that frequently put 10 men behind the ball. At 34, this is probably the last hurrah for the greatest regista the world has ever known.
Andres Iniesta, MF, Barcelona: Iniesta is not the yin to Xavi's yang; they are more like yin and yin, two midfield geniuses sharing the same Einsteinian soccer brain. For Spain that usually means having Xavi set the tempo while Iniesta - he of the impossible close control - gets into more attacking positions. The 30-year-old was the hero of the 2010 final, netting the game's only goal.
David Villa, F, Atletico Madrid: The 32-year-old has ever-so-quietly scored 56 goals in 94 caps, a ratio seldom matched or bettered on the world stage. He is a sniper who relies on intelligence and balance rather than pace and power, and is perhaps the most underappreciated player of the past decade. As with Xavi, this summer feels very much like a last hurrah.
Vicente del Bosque, hired in 2008 to replace Luis Aragonés, had considerable expectations to live up to after his predecessor led the team to the 2008 European Championship title. Since then, del Bosque has led the country to the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro title. Though many national teams and coaches don’t like to stay more than one World Cup cycle, he recently signed a contract extension to remain at the helm until 2016.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 6-0-2, 20 points / 14 GF, 3 GA (first place in Europe’s Group I)
Spain sailed through qualification in their group, the smallest in UEFA, going unbeaten with just two draws (both at home). Although they were the favorites to finish atop their group, they did have to contend with France in order to avoid a playoff, and did so successfully. Altogether, they allowed the fewest goals of any European team in qualification.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
The champions have qualified for the last 10 World Cups and will look to add another star to their crest in Brazil. Prior to their 2010 triumph, Spain had a reputation as a talented team that could not prevail in the big occasions, and their previous best showing had been fourth place in 1950, also held in Brazil. Still, with their current generation of players and track record built over the last decade, Spain must still be considered among the favorites this time around -- but not overwhelmingly so, as was the case in 2010.
The last game between Spain and the USMNT came in June 2011, when Spain thrashed the Americans 4-0 at Gillette Stadium in a friendly … The US national team defeated Spain in their last competitive game, a 2-0 win in the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal that snapped Spain’s winning streak at 15 … Fernando Torres was on Chelsea’s roster for the 2012 MLS All-Star Game in PPL Park, but did not play in the match … There are six Spanish players in MLS in 2014: Oriol Rosell (Sporting Kansas City), Álvaro Rey (Toronto FC), Rubén Bover (New York Red Bulls), Armando (New York Red Bulls), Cristian (D.C. United) and Jose Mari (Colorado Rapids).
23-MAN WORLD CUP ROSTER
Defenders: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Raul Albiol (Napoli), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Juanfran Torres (Atletico Madrid)
Midfielders: Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Juan Mata (Manchester United)