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World Cup 2006 Preview – Spain
Absolute odds: 14/1
Group H winners: 4/6
Spain, once again, are seen as dark horses for the World Cup and 2006 will finally put an end to years of disappointment and this generation of players will realize their undeniable potential. But they won’t. For all their individual talent, they can never motivate themselves to take on the challenge.
They are, of course, stalwarts of the World Cup and 2006 will be their eighth consecutive tournament for which they have qualified since 1978. The quarter-finals are as far as they have gone since then, so why the obsession that it will be “their year”?
Spain qualified via the play-offs after finishing second in their group against Serbia and Montenegro. Luis Aragones’ side were unbeaten in 10 qualifiers, but five draws and five wins meant they had to face Slovakia to secure their place in Germany. It was all over after the first leg as Spain lost 5-1 before drawing 1-1 in the second leg to win 6-2 on aggregate.
Perhaps the cause of such optimism lies in the manager. Under Aragones, Spain are unbeaten in 18 appearances since taking charge in July 2004, although the players must take credit for that too.
Spain have unearthed a real attacking talent in Fernando Torres. The 21-year-old Atletico Madrid striker was the fourth top scorer in the European qualifying zone with seven goals and he is a target for Arsenal and Chelsea. Torres is seen as the natural successor to Spain’s most capped outfield player and all-time top scorer Raul.
At 28, Raul is expected to be at his peak for the final, but a cruciate ligament injury in his knee suffered in November raises questions about his influence. One more excuse for a potentially underperforming tournament?
September’s qualifier against Serbia and Montenegro set a new record as it was the first time a foreign club, Liverpool, had more national team representatives than any Spanish club. Will the likes of Jose Reina, Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia transfer their excellent club performances to the big stage? While Fernando Morientes, with five goals in seven World Cup appearances, means he is a threat even if his domestic form has been somewhat indifferent.
The notorious underachievers face a tough opener prospect in Ukraine and will need to level up for their remaining two matches which they will be fully expected to win. The opener will also be Ukraine’s first-ever World Cup appearance and, with both sides keen to avoid defeat, a draw is the likely outcome.
Draw Spain vs Ukraine @ 11/5
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