1. St Iker: Any side that aspires to win football’s greatest prize needs a world class goalkeeper on top of his game. Italy had Buffon in 2006, and for South Africa 2010 read Iker Casillas. The Madrid stopper is considered Spain’s finest keeper of all time; lightning reactions, in command of his area and solid with his feet; he has it all. In the Bernabeu they call him ‘San Iker’, and after saving their skin on literally hundreds of occasions, you do begin to if there are any extra-terrestrial powers hidden within those gloves.
2. For club and country: Right across the Spanish first eleven you will find pockets of players that ply their trade together at club level, and that understanding is irreplaceable. In defence you have Pique and Puyol from Barca, in midfield Xavi and Iniesta (and Sergio Busquets when Senna isn’t available) and upfront; Villa and Silva from Valencia. They all know each other so well they have developed an almost telepathic understanding, and instantly transform club form onto the international stage.
3. Euro Euforia: For years Spain had gone into tournaments among the favourites, only to disappoint time and time again. Them and England had mastered the art of crashing out in the quarter-finals. But Euro 2008 changed all that. Whilst England didnt even manage to qualify, Spain waltzed their way to Vienna and defeated the Germans to lift the Euro 2008 trophy. They have finally discarded the ‘Perennial Underachievers’ tag that had plagued them for so long; now for the World Cup.
4. Villa Maravilla: Is their a more lethal marksmen in the game right now than David Villa? Right now only Eto’o and Luis Fabiano for Brazil comes close. The other pretender will be lining up right next to him; Fernando Torres. Villa was a revelation in Euro 2008, scoring 4 in 4 to send Spain rocketing towards the final, finishing the tournament as top scorer. Unfortunately for the Valencia hotshot he was unable to play against the Germans due to injury, but he will be raring to put that right in South Africa. The striker has 33 goals for Spain, and has scored three goals already in a World Cup: he has to be a solid bet for topscorer in 2010’s showpiece.
5. Superstylin: Is there an international team that plays with the same panache and flair than Spain right now? The answer has to be a resounding no. Spain have won over the world with their characteristic incisive, one-touch passing. They score goals for fun, as their qualifying group rivals will testify. They run rings round teams, grinding them into submission, almost toying with their opposition at times. They have a settled first eleven and fixed formations for any given circumstance or fixture. Teams just cannot get the ball off them, and as any wily football coach will tell you: you cant score goals if you don’t have the ball.
6. Fight with Flair: As mentioned above we all knew about Spain’s flair, but as yesterdays friendly against Argentina showed, they’re not afraid to get stuck in. Argentina came out in the second half with a gameplan to get stuck into Spain’s miniature midfield men. Masherano and Gago set about Xavi, Iniesta and Alonso with a ruthlessness one would expect from a team led by Diego Maradona. But Spain gave as good as they got, and never lost their heads in the heat of the battle. Villa, Alonso, Xavi and co. showed they can fight fire with fire, and Spain ended up putting the Argentinians to bed. This bodes well for a World Cup where teams will have no choice but to bully Spain.
7. Supersubs: When Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina and Alvaro Negredo find it difficult to break into the first eleven, you know you´re dealing with a special group of players. They have world-class players as back-up in all departments: Senna gets injured, in comes Busquets. Silva needs a rest, let’s bring on Juan Mata. Third choice stiker Negredo feels like a breather? Bring on La Liga’s top scorer from 2008, Dani Güiza. Incredible.
8. Mixing it up: The Spanish have a fantastic mix of wise old heads and spriteful youth. Players like Puyol, Casillas, Xavi and Senna have been there and done it. The younger players such as Iniesta, Silva and Cesc were all part of the Euro 2008 winning team, so nothing will phase them next year. And with some cracking youth coming through in the shape of Jesus Navas, Juan Mata, Pablo Hernandez and Nacho Monreal, Spain are in a fantastic position to let them loose in friendlies before next summer.
9. Anybody out there? Who are realistic challengers to Spain’s assault on South Africa? Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France and Germany are the usual suspects. England and Holland will make a splash, but you can normally rely on those already mentioned to mount the more serious challenges. Spain have beaten them all in the last two years, with the exception of Brazil, and we were denied our opportunity to see them pit their wits against each other at the Confederations Cup due to an unexpected giantkilling from USA. Man for man, I would put my 10euros on Spain, but in no way should one underestimate the Brazilians, who always seem to wheel out the performances for the big occasions.
10. It’s their turn! Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France and Germany have all won the thing, so it has to be Spain’s turn, right? France proved you can win a World Cup and European Championship in succession with their double in 1998 and 2000, so Spain shouldn’t feel overawed by the prospect. World Cups are naturally difficult to predict, and anything can happen in 90 minutes of knock-out football. But I’ve already made my prediction, and if ‘La Roja’ manage to shake off the burden of expectation and turn it on in South Africa, the trophy will surely be heading to Barajas Airport on July 12th 2010.