Agence France-Presse . Durban
European champions Spain make their World Cup bow against Switzerland here today with star midfielder Cesc Fabregas saying they were ‘hungry for the title’.
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 have rightly been installed as joint favourites for the World Cup with Brazil.
Spain hold the distinction of being the only side to ever be ranked number one in the FIFA standings without winning a World Cup. Their best placing remains fourth place in 1950.
The country would only appear in two more World Cups until 1978, but have qualified for every tournament since then.
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, coached by Vicente Del Bosque, qualified with a flawless record, winning all 10 matches in their European qualifying group, and Fabregas said maybe the time had come for Spain to step forward for a first World Cup crown.
‘We are hungry for the title and we can show we are the best at this championships,’ said Fabregas, the Arsenal playmaker who struggles to get in the Spanish team such is their embarrassment of riches.
‘We are in a very competitive group, but we are keen to show that this is our moment and we are hungry to show that Spain can be the best.’
After the Switzerland game, Spain face Honduras on June 21 in Johannesburg and Chile four days later in Pretoria.
Switzerland, who reached the last 16 in 2006 before falling on penalties to Ukraine, overcame a shock 2-1 defeat to minnows Luxembourg to top their pool in European qualification.
The team, now coached by former Bayern Munich boss Ottmar Hitzfeld, features a healthy blend of youth and experience, combining talented youngsters Eren Derdiyok, Tranquillo Barnetta and goalkeeper Diego Benaglio with seasoned campaigners like skipper Alexander Frei and Congo-born striker Blaise N’Kufo.
In their warm-ups, the Swiss drew 1-1 with reigning world champions Italy, but suffered a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica and midfielder Gelson Fernandes was under no illusion how tough an opponent Spain represented.
The Spanish team, he said, were ‘the best team of all time - they play like Barcelona’.
‘I have rarely seen such dominance in collective play. You can see they all fit together well as a unit on the pitch and it’s really great to see - it will be magnificent to play against them.
‘They are the favourites as they are very strong tactically and technically. We will have to put them under pressure high up the field.’
But the Swiss have been dealt a harsh blow with Frei and Kosovo-born West Ham midfielder Valon Behrami both out injured.
Coach Hitzfeld, who is just one of three coaches to win the Champions League with two different teams (in his case Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich), insisted that even without the injured duo there was no question of playing for a 0-0 draw with the Spanish.
‘Against Spain, we have to score one or two goals, because playing for 0-0 against Spain is very hard, few teams succeed in doing that,’ he said.
‘We have been training in restricted spaces so as to adapt ourselves to the Spanish game.
‘We will in any case be defensive minded and will have to take our chances when we counter attack, because the Spanish are likely to have 65-70 percent of possession.’