Spain has been nearly unbeatable for almost four years. Another
month of that type of play is what the European champion is looking
Known for disappointment at the World Cup, Spain begins its
quest for its first world championship when it faces Switzerland in
Durban, South Africa, on Wednesday.
Spain, ranked second by FIFA, has lost once in 49 games since
November 2006, winning the 2008 European championship and posting a
10-0-0 record in World Cup qualifying. The only defeat of that
stretch was 2-0 to the United States at last summer’s
Confederations Cup, ending Spain’s record 35-game unbeaten streak
That success might be muted if Spain fails to deliver a World
The team is heavily favored to win this Cup, but it’s known for
failing to live up to the hype.
Spain has reached the semifinals of the World Cup once,
finishing fourth in 1950. Four years ago, the Spaniards cruised
through the group phase by winning all three games handily only to
lose 3-1 to France in the next round.
There isn’t expected to be much of a challenge again in Group H,
which includes Honduras and Chile. La Furia is 15-0-3 against the
Swiss, but the teams haven’t met since a 3-0 win for the Spaniards
in the group phase of the 1994 Cup.
Spain is entering this tournament coming off a 6-0 win over
Poland on June 8.
“We want to start the World Cup on the right foot, that’s
fundamental,” defender Sergio Ramos said. “We’re very motivated to
get started, we want to show off what we’ve been doing here for a
long time now.”
Xavi is the key to Spain’s fluid short-passing game. The
playmaking midfielder, who has eight goals in 87 games, was named
the best player at Euro 2008 but was considered a major
disappointment in the last World Cup.
“Our team’s style over the past few years has been marked by
touch football, by a lot of quick movement, especially in the
center of the field,” said forward David Villa, who led Euro 2008
with four goals. “Though we all contribute to this, Xavi especially
does. He’s the lynchpin.”
Switzerland is making a second consecutive World Cup appearance
after being eliminated on penalties against Ukraine in the round of
16 four years ago. The team wasn’t much better while co-hosting
Euro 2008, exiting in the group phase.
Now, it will be without forward Alexander Frei (ankle) and
midfielder Valon Behrami (thigh) for the opener due to
Frei is Switzerland’s all-time leader with 40 goals, and Blaise
Nkufo will be relied upon to score in his absence. The 35-year-old
forward has seven goals in 29 appearances for the national team,
tying Frei for the team lead with five during qualifying.
While scoring may be an issue, Switzerland is known for its
rigid defensive play. The team conceded eight goals and had four
shutouts while topping its qualifying group with a 6-1-3