Preview: Spain vs. Switzerland
European champion Spain will be one of the last two teams in action in the opening flight of group matches, a position the perennial World Cup underachiever also hopes to be in at the end of South Africa 2010.
Spain takes on Switzerland in Durban on Wednesday knowing that if it plays to its vast potential it can add the world title to its 2008 European Championship crown.
While those kinds of predictions have weighed down Spain in the past, now the team made up almost entirely of stars from Barcelona and Real Madrid is enjoying them.
"There's high expectations because of our trajectory over the past years, people see we can play well and that's positive," striker David Villa said. "I wouldn't say it's pressure, it's more like flattery."
Spain and Switzerland have had a long wait to get their World Cup campaigns under way. They'll be the last teams to play their first games in South Africa when they meet at Moses Mabhida Stadium.
But for Switzerland, the Group H match still comes too soon, with its experienced captain Alex Frei and West Ham midfielder Valon Behrami both out injured.
"I have decided that Alex Frei is not yet fit to play," said coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, adding that he would also leave out Behrami in an attempt to have both players fit for the following match against Chile.
Hitzfeld dismissed speculation that Frei's World Cup is already over because of a right ankle injury as "absurd."
Frei, whose 40-goal international tally is a Swiss record, was hurt in the final squad practice before flying to South Africa last week.
Behrami strained a left thigh muscle in Switzerland's final warmup game, a 1-1 draw against Italy on June 5.
Striker Frei may not have been busy anyway against Spain, but Switzerland will need all its defensive skills to contain Vicente del Bosque's attacking team and its swift passing game.
"We respect to the maximum level but we know if we play at our level we've got chances of winning," said Villa, who was top scorer at the 2008 European Championship with four goals.
Spain has not advanced past the World Cup quarterfinals since it's best finish - fourth - in 1950.
And while Switzerland has injury worries, Spain's talented squad is at near full strength, with Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta declared fit by Del Bosque.
Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is recovering from a right leg injury and may not start. In that case, Del Bosque will likely start Villa as a lone striker in front of a five-man midfield made up of Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, David Silva and Sergio Busquets along with either Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Jesus Navas or Pedro Rodriguez.
Spain's defense should contain Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique as centerbacks with Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevila as fullbacks, and captain Iker Casillas in goal.
Spanish players say they are expecting a tough game against a defensive Switzerland.
"They've done well in the last few tournaments against potent teams and they have well-known players," Cesc Fabregas said. "You don't need to watch a lot of video to know they're going to make things difficult."
Fabregas, the Arsenal midfielder who has recovered from a broken right leg that had threatened his World Cup participation, said Spain is playing down its favorite's tag.
"We're a regular team, like all, and we need to go little-by-little," he said. "When we won the Euro nobody was talking about us. You have to be humble, work little-by-little, and only concentrate on the first game and we'll see what happens. Group classification is the only importance."