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Spain World Cup soccer fans expect their team to rise to the occasion

Spain's stumble in South Africa's Confederations Cup and injured star players aren't enough to discourage fans of their "beautiful game."

Spain fans wait for the start of the World Cup 2006 match against France in Hanover, Germany on June 27, 2006. (Felix Ordonez/Reuters)

Spain World Cup Team Statistics: Group H

Status: Advance round 2, advance to quarterfinals, advance to semifinals, wins finals match - World Cup 2010 champion!

World Ranking: 2

World Cup 2010 Results: 6-1-0

Total goals scored: 8

Total goals scored against: 3

Spain World Cup Schedule: June 16 - Switzerland (0-1 loss); June 21 - Honduras (2-0 win); June 25 - Chile (2-1 win), June 29 - Portugal (1-0 win), July 3 - Paraguay  (1-0 win), July 7 - Germany (1-0 win), July 11 - Netherlands (1-0 win).

Spain World Cup Soccer 2010

This squad’s most remarkable achievement wasn’t its breakthrough performance to win Euro 2008 or seducing the soccer world with its paean to the beautiful game. Rather it has been in unifying a nation — bitterly divided regionally, culturally, linguistically, politically — behind the national team.

For generations the Basque region, Catalonia and Castile all nurtured deep antagonism toward the national team. But then soccer heroes like Xavi, a Catalan and the man in the middle for Barcelona, and Iker Casillas, a Real Madrid legend, forged friendships and paraded them before the fans.

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In an iconic moment during celebrations after the 2008 Euro triumph, Xavi cavorted across a stage in Madrid draped in a Spanish flag. Unimaginable five or six years before, it still felt — even in victory — daring, as if he was risking his relationship with his city and team, Barcelona. But the gesture prevailed. The fanatics and ultra-nationalists found it harder to preach division, or at least to find a receptive audience, when the team was unified —  not to mention playing such intoxicating and winning football.

Spain World Cup History: For an enduring world soccer power, Spain has been a consistent underperformer in World Cup competition. Even as host nation in 1982, it failed to win its first-round group, finishing behind Northern Ireland, and then exited the tourney when it finished last in its second-round group.

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Spain World Cup Conventional Wisdom: A year ago Spain was riding high, ranked number one in the world and undefeated — with a record-tying 35 match unbeaten streak — since late 2006. Then the team stumbled in, of all places, South Africa, losing a Confederations Cup semi to the United States 2-0. Finally, injuries to key players Xavi and Fernando Torres threatened its World Cup ambitions. Still, expectations remain robust. Fans throughout the world, at least those without fervent ties to rivals, are rooting for Spain as protectors of “the beautiful game.”

Spain World Cup Team Coach: Vincente del Bosque

Many might have shied from the job, taking over the team on the heels of the 2008 Euro crown, with World Cup expectations at their highest. But del Bosque doesn’t lack for confidence, having won two Champions League titles with Real Madrid. While the mild-mannered, self-effacing del Bosque is a decided counterpoint to his predecessor, Luis Aragones, he appears to have adopted the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach.

Spain World Cup Team Strength: An embarrassment of riches — certainly on paper the strongest and deepest team. No other team even approaches Spain’s short passing attack with its ability to control the game — and frustrate its opponents — by denying other teams possession.

Spain World Cup Team Weakness: Beyond injuries and exhaustion, Spanish game may not show at its best, with the chill of South African winter as well as rock-hard fields.

Spain World Cup Key Player: Xavi

Spain boasts brilliant talents, from Fernando Torres and David Villa up front to Iker Casillas in goal. But Xavi is the heart of the Spanish attack, the passing metronome that makes everything tick. Other Spanish players, superstars on their teams and in their leagues, have learned to surrender the ball to Xavi; and if they are willing to make a run, their reward will be a feathery pass from the master that lands the ball at their toes. Xavi’s thigh injury has Spain rightfully concerned. He is the one indispensable player; as goes Xavi, so goes the team.

 


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