Spain's confidence rubs off on coach Del Bosque
Spain will leave for South Africa on Thursday comfortable in its status as favorite, a conviction that has rubbed off on coach Vicente del Bosque ahead of his World Cup debut.
Del Bosque missed out on the 1978 World Cup in Argentina because of injury, and the former Real Madrid player and coach believes he - and his team - are ready.
"I think every day of your career you mature, you feel greater responsibility," Del Bosque told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "It's true that there is a great ambiance around this team filled with confidence and that affects all of us."
Spain opens play in Group H against Switzerland on June 16 before also facing Honduras and Chile.
Beset by heavy expectation, Del Bosque refuses to let "disaster" enter the vocabulary if Spain fails to win its first Wold Cup.
"An athlete can't just think that one triumphs and 31 fail. It's not healthy to think that's it's all or nothing," Del Bosque said. "We're not setting any goal. Our objective is obviously the maximum but another thing we know is that to get there will be very difficult. If we win, the repercussions will be great."
Spain has never advanced past the quarterfinals, with a fourth-place finish in 1950 earned without elimination play. In Germany four years ago, the Spanish team lost to France in the second round.
But the penalty shootout win over Italy at the 2008 European Championship provided confidence and united the team even more. Spain went on to beat Germany in the final.
"Good relationships are key to any triumph," Del Bosque said from the team's headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid. "A disunited locker room can win, it can happen. But if there's a good ambiance then usually victory is a lot easier."
Del Bosque hasn't tinkered with predecessor Luis Aragones' work, which sees Spain's best generation of players arrive with a clear identity and system of play, and the bonds that have been forged inside the locker room have fueled belief it can finally succeed where before it had always failed.
"There are many similarities to 2008. Nearly 80 percent of the players are the same and the other 20 percent we've incorporated bring an extra touch to the team," Del Bosque said. "I'm not saying they're better than before, but it's the law of life. Their are people who bring something distinct that we didn't have before."
Gerard Pique has replaced Carlos Marchena as starting center back alongside Barcelona teammate Carles Puyol, while holding midfielder Sergio Busquets has taken over for Marcos Senna, who was worn down by injuries this season.
Jesus Navas and Pedro Rodriguez also bring extra speed along the flanks as they are among eight new players in the 23-man squad, although the core of starters is basically unchanged from 2008.
Spending a week in Austria was key to making the new players feel part of the squad and to recapture the Euro 2008 feeling.
"We wanted to change the scenery a little bit, to bring out a training camp feeling so the players don't get bored," the 59-year-old Del Bosque said. "We look for the best preparation but without burdens."
Del Bosque, who played 18 times for Spain between 1975-80, sees Argentina, Italy and Brazil as the favorites, although Diego Maradona has the toughest test with Argentina.
"They had a lot of problems with qualifying. They have great players who surpass the elements in each position," he said. "They will unite."
Del Bosque said Brazil and England have great chances due to their coaches.
"Fabio Capello is an intelligent man and he adapted perfectly to England," Del Bosque said. "He's taken the spine and base of that team and united it into something extraordinary, a team that will torment its opponents."
Spain will arrive in Potchefstroom on Friday, where it will train between games.
Del Bosque, who has won 25 of 26 games since taking over and is signed on to guide Spain through Euro 2012, has always managed the expectations that come with euphoria well. At Madrid, he guided a team of galacticos that included Luis Figo, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane to domestic, European and international triumphs.
"We're contenders to reach the final but we've got strong enemies in front of us," Del Bosque said after Tuesday's 6-0 win over Poland. "What we've done in the past is of no value for the future. We need to apply ourselves, work hard and play like today. But even that isn't a guarantee."