Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

More Sports

Spain set to pass first-round test

By Kevin Fylan

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Spain's Group H opponents have one simple problem at this World Cup -- how do you score goals if you cannot get the ball off them?

An uncannily gifted generation of midfielders can pass the best teams in the world into submission and Switzerland, Chile and Honduras will struggle to contain the European champions.

With Fernando Torres and David Villa there to provide the coup de grace after all the intricate approach play, the real battle is likely to be for second.

However, if Brazil finish runners-up in Group G there could see a strange final game between Spain and Chile that no one really wants to win.

Spain have underperformed at World Cups, with a reputation for falling at the quarter-finals or before and a best previous finish of fourth back in 1950.

This time, they come to a World Cup emboldened by their note perfect success at Euro 2008 and local media have reported that they are in line for a bonus of 600,000 euros ($722,300) a man for taking home the biggest prize for the first time.

If Vicente del Bosque's side are to be troubled, a Chile team that qualified in second place from South America look the most dangerous proposition.

Under Marcelo Bielsa, a football obsessive who studies the game's technical aspects in forensic detail and has what must be one of the world's biggest collections of matches on video, Chile are not afraid of taking the game to the opposition.

In that sense, there is a chance they could take Spain by surprise, given that not many teams are prepared to play them at something like their own game.

Before then, while Spain begin their campaign with a match against Switzerland in Durban on June 16, Chile kick off against Honduras in Nelspruit.

Honduras had a scare going into the tournament over Wilson Palacios but the influential midfielder's leg muscle injury turned out to be less serious than feared.

ANIMAL MAGIC

Their hopes could depend to a great extent on his form and whether the 36-year-old Carlos Pavon has the legs to dart in front of defenders and be the penalty area animal of renown.

Spain are so clearly Europe's best team -- they won 10 out of 10 in qualification -- that anything less than a commanding win for against the Swiss seems inconceivable.

Andres Iniesta, who is a doubt for the opening match with a thigh injury, runs the center of midfield with his Barcelona colleague Xavi, with the "tiki-taka," tip-tap of passes proving impossible to resist for most opponents.

Spain will expect to make it six points out of six when they face Honduras at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on June 21, with Chile taking on Switzerland in Port Elizabeth the same day.

Chile's game against the Swiss, who boast a great goalkeeper in Diego Benaglio and a dangerous midfielder in Tranquillo Barnetta, could decide who comes second and gets a likely second round battle with Brazil, though Portugal may have something to say about that.

At this stage, everything points to Spain as group winners. They only arrived at this World Cup on the tournament's opening day and it would be a surprise for many if they are not still here on its last.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)