Population: 40,000,000
Area: 504,782 km²
Capital: Madrid
Language: Spanish

Spain had little trouble topping the UEFA group 7 and remained undefeated five points clear of Austria.
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Participated: (10) 1934, 1950, 1962, 1966, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998
Best placing: Fourth place 1950
Topscorers: Estanislao Basora and Emilio Butragueño, 5 goals
More detailed history information

Jun 02 - SPA v SLO  in Gwangju
Jun 07 - SPA v PAR  in Jeonju
Jun 12 - SPA v RSA  in Daejeon

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..

WCA 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 seems improbable.


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 Deportivo.

    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 this summer.

    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 enviable prospect.

    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 World Cup.

    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 2002 though.


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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