The Spanish national team has long been forgotten in the midst of the European achievements of clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona. Los Galacticos and the Catalan club have long dominated the Spanish football scene not to mention their heavy presence in European club competitions.
While Barca won the Champions League twice the past four years and Los Blancos have established the record of nine European Cup titles by 2001-02, La Roja was left in their shadow contemplating an empty trophy cabinet time and again. Euro 2008 changed all that and perhaps none other than the crucial penalty-shootout triumph over Italy best represented the change in the fortunes of Spain’s national team. Prior to Euro 2008, the Spaniards were often considered as part of an elite group, albeit an unsavory one, which has failed to achieve glory on big occasions despite the great potential and the vast pool of talent to choose from. Spain had won the European Championship once back in 1964.
Becoming European Champions has meant so much to La Furia Roja, yet the crowning achievement of any footballer and football-loving nation remains the World Cup. To win the World Cup in South Africa will separate forever Spain’s name from titles such as ‘nearly men’ and ‘underachievers’ among others.
In the past few years, the record of La Roja has been quite impressive to say the least. Spain became the first nation to top FIFA’s World Rankings without having won the World Cup and went on to tie Brazil’s record of 35 consecutive games without defeat. June 24 2009 signaled the end of Spain’s formidable record following a surprise defeat to the United States in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. However, Spain did not concede the record without breaking another one when the team was able to achieve 15 consecutive wins between 2008 and 2009.
The current crop of Spanish players has gained recognition for not just its positive approach and entertaining style but also for winning Euro 2008. It will be hard to bet against the likes of David Villa, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, and Fernando Torres going all the way in South Africa and winning the elusive title for their nation.
Perhaps only Brazil can stand in their way with Diego Maradona’s Argentina stuttering to qualify, Marcello Lippi’s Italy suffering from aging and decline in the ranks of its World Champions, and Germany yet to regain its stature amongst the elite. Obviously, the French cannot be excluded yet France’s World Cup hopes are hanging by a threat while the Netherlands are perennial underachievers in World Cup tournaments.
As such, who can bet against Spain’s stars from carrying their nation one step further and finally conquering the World Cup? Certainly Brazil might have a say but this time Spain cannot be considered as a potential surprise package- the Spaniards have finally combined their skills with mental fortitude and results on the pitch. Just look back at Euro 2008 and the nerve-wrecking penalty win over the Italians.