Spain have Brazil in their sights
Spain‚Äôs 2-1 friendly victory over Argentina on Saturday was further evidence that the European champions are going to take some stopping if they are to be denied their first ever World Cup triumph.
Vicente del Bosque‚Äôs men will have the bruises to show that ‚Äėfriendly‚Äô was perhaps not the best word to describe an exciting and competitive match that was lucky to finish with 22 men still on the pitch.
‚ÄúYou are likely to see games like this in the World Cup finals,‚ÄĚ Argentina coach Diego Maradona, before receiving his two-month ban from FIFA, said after the game. ‚ÄúArgentina didn‚Äôt come to kick their opponents. Argentina played to the limits.‚ÄĚ
Argentina may have struggled in qualifying for South Africa but they have lost none of their abrasive edge (committing 23 fouls to Spain‚Äôs 7) and gave Spain, who won all 10 of their qualifiers, a run for their money.
But Del Bosque‚Äôs side are not easily thrown off their stride. They played the better football and crafted a wonderful opening goal with a slick passing move that Xabi Alonso netted, after David Silva‚Äôs shot was parried.
Lionel Messi equalised from the penalty spot before Xabi Alonso sealed the victory with a late penalty for the hosts.
‚ÄúIt was a friendly but we knew it would be tough,‚ÄĚ Spain captain Iker Casillas, who won his 100th cap, said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs important to beat the major sides, more so if they are a former world champion.
‚ÄúNow all we need to do is beat Brazil, because we have already beaten England, Germany, Italy and France. After this result the rest of the world will have more respect for us.‚ÄĚ
Spain have recovered well from their shock 2-0 defeat to the United States in the Confederations Cup in June ‚Äď a result that denied them a shot at Brazil in the final ‚Äď but it served as a useful reminder that they cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
Before the Argentina game, Del Bosque admitted his greatest concern was preventing any over-confidence, but he appears to have successfully nurtured the competitiveness in the side to keep it fresh.
Since Euro 2008, outstanding new talents have debuted in an already impressive squad, including Barcelona‚Äôs Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets, Valencia‚Äôs Juan Mata and Pablo Hernandez, and Sevilla‚Äôs Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo.
A World Cup showdown between Brazil and Spain next year would be a fascinating encounter, and it is difficult to bet against one of them being the likely winner.
PHOTO: Spain’s Joan Capdevilla (L) battles for the ball against Argentina’s Fabrizio Coloccini during their friendly soccer match at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, November 14, 2009. REUTERS/Nacho Doce