Switzerland-Spain Preview

Spain has been nearly unbeatable for almost four years. Another

month of that type of play is what the European champion is looking

for.

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

(32-0-3).

That success might be muted if Spain fails to deliver a World

Cup title.

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

injuries.

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

record.