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Villa: Spain ready to shake World Cup underdog tag

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain's David Villa is confident the European champions are ready to win the World Cup for the first time.

Spain traveled to Austria on Friday ahead of Saturday's match against Saudi Arabia, the first of three exhibition games ahead of the June 11-July 11 tournament.

Villa's impressive scoring record — 36 goals in 55 appearances — has propelled him to first-choice striker on the team. His tournament-high four goals also led Spain to victory at Euro 2008.

With his club future settled following a $49 million move from Valencia to Spanish champion Barcelona, the 28-year-old Villa says Spain is ready to shake its underachiever tag on the world stage.

"On the one hand we know we have the potential to win it, but we won't put ourselves under pressure because we know that being favorite or not means nothing," Villa told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "We don't consider ourselves favorites, nor do we think we have an advantage over the other teams."

Spain's preparations for South Africa begin with eight days of training at high altitude, starting with the match in Innsbruck. Spain will also play South Korea at the Tivoli stadium on Wednesday before returning home to play Poland on June 8.

It leaves for the tournament a day later and opens against Group H opponent Switzerland on June 16, before matches against Honduras and Chile.

Villa said the team has no injury worries with Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas training normally after overcoming serious leg injuries. The rest of the 23-man squad is healthy.

"That always is a worry, of course it is," Villa said. "But there is still time left for them to recover fully from their injuries and we are all convinced that every one of the players will arrive at the World Cup in tiptop condition."

Villa's health has also been questioned after he was pictured with a number of bandages wrapped around his upper body during the Spanish league season.

"I have had a collarbone problem for some time and have simply been taking care of it," Villa said. "But it has recovered completely now and there is no problem at all — physically I feel in very good shape."

Spain has the experience of last summer's Confederations Cup at which coach Vicente del Bosque had his only defeat — to the United States — in 23 games since taking over for Luis Aragones after the Euro 2008 triumph.

With 22 wins and a perfect qualifying record, the transition has been smooth.

"I always say the same thing and that is that the national team continues to play well, and the good thing for us is that the change of coach wasn't noticed at all," Villa said. "That's very important, because the team is playing just as well as before, and better than it had with other coaches in the past."

Villa insists he's not thinking about Raul Gonzalez's team-record goal tally of 44 goals in 102 appearances, only about Spain reaching the final.

Spain has only two European championship trophies to show for its long history of producing talented players. It is looking to rebound from a disappointing exit to France in the first knockout round four years ago and reach its first semifinal since 1950.

But a meeting with five-time champion Brazil, neighbor Portugal or African favorite Ivory Coast looms in the first knockout stage, a high-stakes game in which Spain must show it has the mettle to be champion.

"We have time to rest and prepare," Villa said. "I'm very excited and I can't wait it for it to start."