Tuesday, May 23, 2006

World Cup Spotlight: Spain

It's one of the world's oddities that Spain has never won the World Cup. And, in fact, that its best finish was fourth place, and that was 56 years ago. It points to the existence of whimsical and capricious gods.

In 2002, La Seleccion waltzed cheekily through early group rounds with nine goals and a perfect record then promptly lost their mojo, barely stumbling past Ireland in penalties and falling to South Korea.

Is this the Spaniards' year? They've had a lucky draw to start (Tunisia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia). Coach Luis Aragones has assembled one of the youngest squads (average age 24) in a decidedly young tournament, exciting consternation with his exclusions of 2002 veterans Ruben Baraja and Fernando Morientes. Morientes was second only to Raul (captain and superstar) in goal-scoring that year, and played on the 1998 team as well. Despite a weak 2005-6 season (9 goals for Liverpool), his record in Spain speaks for itself (26 goals in 43 games).

Further grumblings abound concerning other conspicuous absences, among them Mariano Pernia of Getafe, Vicente of Valencia (recovering from an ankle injury) and Guti Hernandez of Real Madrid, but it all serves to point up the wealth of the pool from which Aragones is fishing. Raul has suffered knee problems and two poor seasons with Real Madrid, but is still Spain's all-time leading scorer. The other two young and hopeful striker-heroes are Fernando Torres (of Atletico Madrid, possibly Manchester-bound, and spot-on with either foot) and David Villa of Valencia, La Liga's second top scorer this season.

This extraordinary line-up is fleshed out by Premiership favorites Fabregas and Reyes of Arsenal and, from Liverpool, keeper Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia (fondly known as "Thumbsucker" here at a pretty move for his creepy and disconcerting goal-celebrations). For full squad lists from both 2006 and 2002, press here.

1 comment:

m said...

Not sure that Spain never having won the World Cup is one of the world's oddities ... they have failure written all over them! they have always been hyped up by the media and have constantly underdelivered.

Before every major competition, be it the World Cup or the European Cup, someone in the Spanish team
always releases overambitious statements such as "vamos a ganar" - and they always disappoint!

This year won't be different: they will make it through the first round but will be kicked out in the quarter finals at the latest. And one of the world's most overrated players, Raul, will finally realise he will never win anything with Spain.