Will Spain end decades of WC pain?

2010-05-04 11:33

The exclusive 2010 Fifa World Cup winners club could welcome a new

member come mid-year with Spain favoured to win the first tournament staged by


They are reigning European champions, serial winners of competitive

and friendly games, boast a wily manager in Vicente del Bosque, and a galaxy of

Barcelona and Real Madrid stars like Xavi and captain Iker Casillas.

Add Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres from the English Premiership

elite and it is no surprise that Red Fury have been installed as 4-1 favourites

to lift the trophy on July 11 at the 90?000-seater Johannesburg Soccer City


Spain face Chile, Switzerland and Honduras in a first round group

that should not prove overly taxing and finishing first may set up an Iberian

showdown against Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal.

Ronaldo and company would represent the first potential banana skin

for a country that has so often flattered only to deceive at the tournament with

fourth the best finish, and that was 60 years ago.

Should Spain succeed at a World Cup that kicks off on June 11 and

is being hosted by nine South African cities, they will join Argentina, Brazil,

England, Germany, Italy, France and Uruguay as champions.

But which ever nation claims the $30?million-prize and world

football bragging rights, South Africa will also be winners with a glittering

line-up of national teams and stars on show.

Only Croatia, Russia and Egypt are missing from the top 20 national

teams in the world and Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is alone among the 23

stars shortlisted for the 2009 Fifa World Footballer of the Year in not making


Weary from years of doubts about security and their ability to host

only the second World Cup held outside Europe or the Americas, South Africans

are relishing the prospect of seeing the heroes they watch weekly on TV


The winter chill will give way to unbridled excitement from

Polokwane to Cape Town as Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Arjen Robben, Ronaldo,

Kaka, Franck Ribery, Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba strut their


All the former winners bar Uruguay are potential challengers to

Spain along with the Netherlands as Brazil seek a record sixth title and England

their first since the late Bobby Moore lifted the Cup 44 years ago.

Argentina have Messi, Brazil Kaka, England Rooney, Germany

legendary fighting spirit, Italy street-wise warriors and French tradition

having qualified for two of the previous three finals, winning one.

Inevitably, some teams will mock the form book as South Africa

prepare to welcome about 300?000 visitors 80 years after Uruguay hosted and won

the first World Cup with the 12 challengers sailing to Montevideo.

The last team to defeat Spain were the USA on a freezing South

African night last June in a 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup semi-final, so count

the Stars and Stripes among potential party-poopers.

Others are Cameroon, Chile, Denmark, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mexico,

Nigeria, Paraguay, Portugal, Serbia and Uruguay – none strong enough to go all

the way, but all capable of embarrassing a more formidable foe.

All 19 World Cup hosts – Japan and South Korea shared the 2002

tournament – reached the second round and this offers a glimmer of hope to lowly

South Africa, who rely heavily on Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar.

Ranked 90 in the world, Bafana Bafana (The Boys) face a mammoth

task to maintain that record with a place among the top seeds proving of little

assistance as they must face 2006 runners-up France, Mexico and Uruguay.

The draw offered no favours to Africa with Drogba-inspired Ivory

Coast in the same group as Brazil, Portugal and Ghana – whose midfield dynamo

Michael Essien is battling to be fit, getting Germany – Serbia and


Victory over Denmark should see Cameroon through to the last 16 and

while not the force of old, Nigeria can defy the odds and advance by finishing

above equally modest rivals Greece and South Korea.

After the heroics of 2002 semi-finalists South Korea, no Asian

qualifier got beyond the first round in Germany four years ago and the outlook

this time is equally bleak with 125-1 shot Australia most likely to upset the


Central America could have two sides in the last 16 – Mexico and

the USA – but Honduras appear condemned to an early exit 28 years after their

only previous appearance.

And when all the drama ends on July 11, one World Cup record will

surely remain intact.

Frenchman Just Fontaine scored 13 goals in 1958 and even

mesmerising Messi and rampant Rooney can hardly hope to better that. –


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