ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
|Spain had little trouble topping the UEFA
group 7 and remained undefeated five points clear of Austria.
here for details
|Participated: (10) 1934, 1950,
1962, 1966, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998
|Best placing: Fourth place 1950
|Topscorers: Estanislao Basora and Emilio Butragueño,
detailed history information
|Raul has accomplished a lot in club football
with Real Madrid, but still hasn't made his mark on a tournament for Spain. Now is the time
to do so. His sublime skills and great understanding of the game can make him one of the best
players at the World Cup. If he plays like he does for Real that is..
VERDICT: Through to KO stage
|The group is tight, but we expect Spain
to bring out the big guns from the start this time and perform against these teams
who are on paper inferior to them. Another first round elimination like in 1998
UNDERACHIEVING FOR REAL
by Matthew Monk
Now for an easy question. Which team is going to come
to the World Cup fancied by many to go far, brimming
with gifted players and confidence, get drawn in a
weak group and underachieve so much that they crash
out before the end of the second week? Who else can
it be? Of course it has to be Spain!
Welcome to the mad, mad world of the Spanish national
team - a world where Northern Ireland, Belgium,
Yugoslavia, Nigeria and Paraguay qualify for the later
stages of the World Cup while Spain go back home to
argue amongst themselves. No international side comes
close to matching Spain's record of underachievement
and failure. Even the original world superpower
Uruguay, incapable of success at the World Cup since
1950, have been regular winners of the Copa America.
All Spain can boast is one paltry European
Championship in 1960. Full stop. And the bad news is
it is not about to change this year.
Spain go to Korea with as good a team as they have
ever had. In Canizaries, Hierro, Helguera, Guti,
Guerrero, Mendieta, Luis Enrique, Morientes, Diego
Tristan and Raul, Spain have a solid, tough, talented
team, honed in the Primera Division and Champions
League. They can defend, create chances and score
goals - and in Korea they will do all three. The
trouble is so can France, Argentina, Portugal, Italy
and England. It is just bad luck that when Spain
finally have a team capable of lifting the greatest
prize of all everyone else around them have become
even better. Why? Because of Real Madrid, because of
Valencia, because of Barcelona and because of
Spanish club football is at its highest ever point,
even higher than the late 1950s and early 1960s when
Real ruled the European Cup and the world. Today the
Primera Division is arguably the best league in the
world, with the most money and best players. The top
Spanish clubs dominate the Champions League - Real
have won it twice in the last four years and Valencia
have reached (and lost) the last two finals. This
year Deportivo have terrorised Manchester United and
Arsenal, and along with Real are the favourites for
the trophy. But with a few notable exceptions (Raul,
Morientes, Diego Tristan) the stars of these teams are
French, Argentinean, Portuguese and Brazilian - not
Spanish. Worse still, as the top Spanish sides get
better their English, Italian and German competitors
spend more, and compete more, and their players get
better and better. And will get further than Spain
Luckily for Spain, they have been drawn into the
weaker, Korean side of the draw. In Group B they will
face old rivals Paraguay (surely not a serious threat
this time), a lightweight South African side incapable
of beating Mali let alone a top European side, and
dark horses Slovenia. Now even if Spain succumb to
their traditional slip-up against Slovenia, they
should still get through this level of opposition and
meet Germany, Ireland or Cameroon - more winnable
games. That puts Spain into a probable quarter final
with Portugal. When they met recently in Spain it
ended 1:1, although Portugal should have won it. In
Korea that is exactly what would happen - Portugal
eliminating Spain. The only other possible route for
Spain would see them play Italy - an even less
Reading this, most Spanish fans will undoubtedly point
to another strong qualifying competition and the
progress of their club sides to argue that rather than
fail again, Spain will go all the way this summer.
Their qualification certainly was impressive. Apart
from a tight contest in Sarajevo against Bosnia, and a
draw away in Austria, Spain had no trouble in
qualification. But they always do this, and then fail
at the major championship, when it really counts. And
in recent friendlies the Spanish have hardly set the
world on fire. The draw with Portugal was joined by a
loss in Holland that could just be starting to show us
what will happen to Spain in the later stages of the
Is there any hope then? Of course there is. As we
have already seen, Spain are drawn in a nice group, in
the weaker half of the draw (away from France,
England, Brazil and Argentina) and should make the
quarter finals at least. That is success enough,
given the 1998 debacle. But could they go further?
They do have some amazing attacking talent, much of it
already very experienced. Raul seems to have been
around forever, scoring goals against the best
defences in Europe along with Morientes. Usually
deployed further back, but still very much an
attacker, is Julen Guerrero of Athletic Bilbao.
Guerrero has been in the Spanish team even longer -
all the way back to the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
And he has never, ever reached his potential, probably
because of his commendable dedication to the Bilbao
cause. Who knows how good he could have become at
Real or Barca, or even Milan or Juve? Since he has
lost his 'golden boy' image to Raul though (and
subsequently found a new role as 'elder statesman')
Guerrero has flourished, and may now be finally ready
to move into the big league.
Further back the midfield is very much the personal
domain of Gaizka Mendieta, once of Valencia, now
currently warming Lazio's bench. By the time he gets
to Korea, Mendieta may well be at Real or Barca, but
at least he will be fresh this summer, and will have a
lot to prove to those who say he was found out at
Lazio. And then of course there is Fernando Hierro at
the back, preparing for his final crack at success age
34. Will he be as valuable as Baresi was in 1994, or
will he get injured and disappear from view like he
does all too often? Questions, questions, questions.
But herein lies the problem for this team more than
any other - just what are Spain going to do in Korea?
Play safe, don't bet a penny on them, but don't be
surprised to see them in the quarter finals or even
the semis. Some teams will never win anything in
exactly the same way as some people will never get
rich or lucky. And that has to mean Spain will have
to carry on trying to win that elusive major title for
at least another two years. One day, probably after a
tough qualification and when we are least expecting
it, Spain will win something. It's not going to be in
A BRIEF WORLD CUP HISTORY
by Jan Alsos
Spain has taken part in ten tournaments, but never achieved
a top three position despite being one of the leading nations in the sport for many years. In
1934 -- their only pre-war appearance -- they were beaten by eventual champions Italy after
a quarterfinal replay. In 1950, Spain reached the final pool of four, but ended fourth which still
remains their best ever position in a World Cup. Spain failed to qualify for the next two
tournaments, but made it to Chile ‘62 and England ‘66 although their results there were not
good enough to get past the first round. Spain’s national team remained in mediocrity for
several more years and both Mexico ‘70 and West Germany ‘74 were staged without them.
FIFA awarded Spain the right to host the World Cup in 1982 and it was important for them
to qualify for Argentina 1978 and promote the Spanish game. They did qualify and beat
Sweden and held Brazil to 0-0, but it still wasn’t enough to progress past the first round. The
Spanish misery in World Cups continued on home soil. Drawn in an easy group with Honduras, Northern
Ireland and Yugoslavia, Spain simply had to get past the first round - and they did, but not
without controversy. They needed a dubious penalty to draw level with Honduras and
another penalty for a foul committed two yards outside the box to beat Yugoslavia before
losing to Northern Ireland who played most of the game one man short. Spain stumbled to
the second phase where England and West Germany proved to be too tough.
Emilio Butragueno was Spain’s revelation in Mexico 1986. His four goals against Denmark in
the second round are legendary, but Belgium on penalties put an end to further glory in the
very next round. Spain looked good during the early stages of Italia ‘90 as well, but against
Yugoslavia they ran into a playmaker called Dragan Stojkovic who sank the Spanish ship
with a wonderful extra time free-kick goal in the second round.
Spain progressed comfortably to the knock-out stages in USA four years later and a solid
3-0 second round win over Switzerland made many Spaniards believe in a really successful
World Cup run for once. Italy however had other plans in the quarterfinal and goals by both
Baggios ended the Spanish dream once again. The optimism was huge also before 1998, but
an early loss to Nigeria in an entertaining game started the nightmare for real. A goalless game
against Paraguay in the following match meant Spain lost control of their own future. That future was in
the hands of Nigeria who needed to take points from Paraguay at the same time as Spain
beat Bulgaria. Spain demolished Bulgaria 6-1, but Nigeria didn’t do their job and Spain
crashed out in the first round against all pre-tournament odds.
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