Del Bosque plays down intense Spain hype
IN Spain, a new phrase has recently entered the vocabulary: 'tiki-taka'.
The rough translation is nothing more complicated than 'touch, touch', yet it is an expression that has come to describe the unique style of passing football that means Spain begin their World Cup today as clear tournament favourites.
"In terms of pure technical quality, Spain are the best team in South Africa by a long way -- they are on a different planet," surmised Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, this week.
Such praise is supported by some extraordinary statistics. Since beating England 1-0 in February 2007, Spain have played 48 games , won 44 and lost just once. Within that sequence, they won the 2008 European Championships and qualified for the World Cup with an unprecedented 10 straight wins.
An unbeaten sequence of 35 matches equalled an all-time record in international football and they have also won 25 of their past 26 matches. Put simply, if Spain do continue their recent streak and sweep to the World Cup in Soccer City on July 11, any comparison with the Brazilians of 1970 would be fully justified.
Should they fail, the fear is of being forever mentioned in the same breath as the Dutch team of Johan Cruyff in 1974 as the best never to win the World Cup. After all, having only once reached the semi-finals, where they were beaten 3-1 by Sweden in 1950, Spain's record of World Cup underachievement easily surpasses that even of England or the Netherlands.
And, on the eve of their opening group match, the final press conference was dominated by one theme: why will it be different this time? In many respects, such pessimism suited manager Vicente del Bosque, who was desperate not to over-play his hand and repeatedly stressed that this was a "well-balanced" World Cup, with Italy, Germany and Argentina singled out for praise.
Yet it was also impossible for Del Bosque to escape the simple fact that Spain have never had such excellence in their squad. Andres Iniesta is rated 50-50 to start against Switzerland while Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, and Pepe Reina are expected to watch from the bench, so the depth and quality far exceeds any other team at this World Cup. With Barcelona players forming the spine of the team, the philosophy is essentially defined by the pressing and passing approach of Xavi Hernandez.
This has then been complimented by some of the best individuals from Real Madrid, Arsenal, Liverpool, Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal. The end result is a frightening cocktail of talent that also has an off-field camaraderie and on-field understanding to resemble a well-drilled club side.
Del Bosque has previously said that it is a trap for Spain to be cornered into a position whereby they must win the World Cup or be regarded as failures.
Yet that is where they now find themselves. For Spain, the moment has arrived and the situation is very simple: make history or continue to be haunted by it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)