Spain enter South Africa amid a tidal wave of expectations. Once labeled with the unsavory distinction of being the perennial underachievers at major tournaments, their Euro 2008 triumph served to dispel such an unflattering myth.
This year’s World Cup title is Spain’s for the taking. Currently listed as co-favorites with a powerhouse side from Brazil, Spain should be able to utilize its superior talent and ability to easily dispose of their inferior competition in the early stages of action.
Let’s analyze La Furia Roja’s upcoming three group matches, and take an in-depth look at their Group H opponents.
June 16th at Durban vs. Switzerland:
Being placed in Group H, Spain will commence their tournament against a Switzerland side entering South Africa in poor form. The Swiss have not a won any of their pre-tournament matches, including a disappointing defeat to a lowly Costa Rican squad. Despite recent warnings from head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld to the Spanish side not to expect the Swiss to roll over, well they won’t have to. Frankly the Swiss can play their best on June 16th, and it likely won’t be good enough to derail Spain’s start in South Africa. If Spain show up here, raring to go and buoyed by their talented midfield, the Swiss will surely be overwhelmed in a game which should be settled by halftime.
Player To Watch: Tranquillo Barnetta
The Swiss midfielder possesses exceptional pace and is imperative to a Swiss attack which has struggled to produce goals. If the Swiss intend on keeping the match tight against Spain, they’ll have to maintain offense, most of which will be facilitated through Barnetta.
Prediction: Spain 3 – Switzerland 0
June 21st at Johannesburg vs. Honduras:
I expect the Spaniards to have an even easier go of things in their second match against Honduras. Like their group rivals Switzerland, Honduras has struggled mightily entering South Africa, losing 3-0 to Romania, and tying Belarus and Azerbaijan. If that’s how they plan on performing in South Africa, Spain may just need to simply show up, seriously.
Player To Watch: Wilson Palacios
The defensive specialist in the Honduran midfield will need to play the game of his play to outduel the likes of Xavi and Iniesta in the Spanish midfield. The Tottenham star won’t dazzle with speed or flair, but plays a tough game comprised of winning balls and distributing them nicely to the strikers.
Prediction: Spain 3 – Honduras 0
June 25th at Pretoria vs. Chile:
This is where Spain’s tournament will really begin. Chile are an explosive side with dynamic attacking qualities and feature a potent attack led by Alexis Sanchez of Udinese and goal-scoring machine Humberto Suazo. If Spain treat them as a pushover, they’ll be in for a rude awakening. I expect this fixture to be largely meaningless for Spain as they should’ve already clinched first place in the group, yet Chile should be fighting for advancement and an opportunity to send a message to the soccer world. The Chileans will give Spain a scare, but the depth and ability of La Furia Roja will vault them to an unblemished opening round record.
Player To Watch: Alexis Sanchez
The attacking midfielder starred for Udinese of the Serie A this past season, and will look to continue his fine form in South Africa. Pegged by many as a potential breakthrough star emerging from this year’s World Cup, his speed, footwork, and long-range striking ability could give Spain fits. If Spain decides to rest some of its star midfielders in this match, it could be up to defensive specialist Marcos Senna to contain the lethal Chilean.
Prediction: Spain 2 – Chile 1
There you have it. Spain should go 3-0-0 in a relatively easy Group H draw, setting up an exciting match against the second place squad from Group G (Portugal?)
Whatever the case may be, we’ll take a look at Spain’s potential knockout phase opponents next time.