Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Fri 19 May 2006

A Spaniard in the works

If the World Cup's just around the corner, it must be time for us all to dismiss Spain's chances of winning it. Yes, Spain, that footballing nation brim-full of world famous teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona that set the heart racing at the very mention of their name.

So here goes, then:
Spain won't win the World Cup this year. Discussion over.

But wait a moment, surely a country that can boast talented players like Luis Garcia, Jose Antonio Reyes, Xabi Alonso and Raul shouldn't be written off so quickly? Well maybe so. Back in 2002, Spain breezed through an easy first round group but squirmed past Ireland on penalties in the second round and eventually fell to South Korea in the quarter finals.

Once again they have an easy first round group, but if history repeats itself, 2006 could see them facing Switzerland in the second round and Brazil in the quarter finals.

Squad-wise, they have plenty of star names that grace the top leagues of Europe, but coach Luis Aragones hasn't been able to settle on a starting line-up. His defence is almost certainly pencilled in but up front he remains a big fan of Raul who has been decidedly ordinary since the last World Cup. Others have called for Aragones to select this season's La Liga top scorer, David Villa of Valencia, but the coach remains undecided.

In the qualifiers, Spain finished second in their group to Serbia and Montenegro, but their form away from home against half-decent opposition was somewhat average. A two-legged play-off against Slovakia was called for in which Spain won convincingly at home but could only draw 1-1 away.

So there we are then. Spain's hopes of lifting the big gold trophy for the first time look decidedly small. So can we now finally hand over the label of 'dark horses' to someone else more deserving? Like England, maybe?

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