High hopes for heavyweights Spain - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

High hopes for heavyweights Spain

By Tom Williams 09/06/2010 10:17:24 AM Comments (0)

Spanish football is riding the crest of a wave following Spain's Euro 2008 victory and the record-breaking achievements of Barcelona in 2009, and La Roja are among the favourites for the World Cup.

Having been drawn alongside Honduras, Chile and Switzerland in Group H, they look well placed to make the last 16, where Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast are all potential opponents if they top their group.

Their best previous performance was a fourth-place finish in 1950 but in players like goalkeeper Iker Casillas, midfield magicians Xavi and Andres Iniesta and lethal strikers David Villa and Fernando Torres they possess the kind of quality that emerges only once in a generation.

Spain qualified with a flawless record, winning all 10 matches in their European qualifying group, but coach Vicente Del Bosque feels that will count for nothing when the tournament gets under way.

"We don't know, destiny is impossible to predict," he said in March.

"The key will be to prepare as well as we possibly can for the battle ahead, because we'll come up against very, very strong opponents. This includes those teams who aren't going into the finals among the favourites."

Rafael Callejas, head of the Honduran football federation, said much preparation lay ahead for his team, ranked 40th in the world and set for only their second World Cup participation after their 1982 appearance, when they went out in the first round.

"We face very high-level teams in Spain, Switzerland and Chile," he said. "Honduras must prepare itself very well."

Fellow Hispanophones Chile, ranked 15th by FIFA, make a return to the World Cup after a 12-year absence.

Coached by enigmatic Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, Chile qualified behind Brazil in the South American zone and boast an exciting young generation of stars headed by Udinese forward Alexis Sanchez, Boca Juniors defender Gary Medel and Sporting Lisbon playmaker Matias Fernandez.

"I think that Spain are the toughest team in the group, no disrespect to the other sides," said Chile winger Mark Gonzalez.

"To be honest, it's going to be very hard to compete for first place but we'll be looking to finish at least second and qualify for the next round. Obviously the games against Honduras and Switzerland will be crucial."

Making up Group H are Switzerland, who reached the last 16 in 2006 before falling on penalties to Ukraine.

They overcame a shocking 2-1 defeat to minnows Luxembourg to top their pool in European qualification.

The team, now coached by German Ottmar Hitzfeld, features a healthy blend of youth and experience, combining talented younger players such as Eren Derdiyok, Tranquillo Barnetta and goalkeeper Diego Benaglio with seasoned campaigners like skipper Alexander Frei and veteran Congo-born striker Blaise N'Kufo.

Favourites: Spain

Fancied: Switzerland, Chile

Underdogs: Honduras

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