Spain head to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa as one of the favourites to lift the trophy on the back of their Euro 2008 success but that tag does not sit well with their players or manager.
In the past Spain have often been the dark horses to win tournaments on the back of a strong qualifying campaign and up until recently had disappointed with their only major trophy being a European championship win back in 1964.
However, the Euro 2008 win in Austria and Switzerland has raised the expectation bar and a perfect 10 wins in World Cup qualifying along with a 35-match unbeaten run - equalling the record of Brazil - has persuaded bookmakers to put Spain down as one of the major contenders.
“We would like not to have this role of favourites but we have it and have to accept it,” Liverpool forward Fernando Torres said in sports daily AS.
“In Spain we think we think we are at the centre of the world and always consider ourselves the favourites.
“I live in England at the moment and the favourites are England and Spain. In France they are France and Spain, in Brazil they are Brazil and Spain. We don’t like it but I guess it is inevitable.”
Spain have one of the most comprehensive squads in world football and boast world class stars all over the pitch such as Torres, Valencia goal machine David Villa, Arsenal starlet Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona’s creative midfield pair Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
The confidence Spain seem to have taken from the Euro success is notable but no-one knows whether the pressure of being favourites will weigh heavy on their shoulders. Spain have never won the World Cup - with a fourth place finish their best in 1950 - but this is seen as their big chance to lift football’s ultimate prize and the nation expects.
“Everybody in Spain thinks that anything except winning the World Cup is a failure,” admitted national coach Vicente del Bosque. “I think that’s nonsense and an extremism but, in the times we live in, it seems that extremism sells.
“And even though we don’t agree, we can hardly say it doesn’t make sense that we’re singled out, given we’re European champions and have won so many games.” Spain have been top of the world rankings for the first time in their history and have been handed a kind group with Switzerland, Honduras and Chile but the last 16 knockout stage could see them come up against Ivory Coast, Portugal or five-time champions Brazil.
Lippi determined to prove sceptics wrong
Rome: Marcello Lippi will lead champions Italy in South Africa in their bid to become the first team since the great Brazil of Pele to retain the World Cup trophy.
But even the most ardent of Italy fans count themselves amongst the sceptics.
For one, this Italy team does not have the talent of the 1958 and 1962 Brazil teams and secondly it is not led by a talisman of Pele proportions.
But it is not just the fact that Italy are missing the finishing gloss needed to be great, their engine and chassis hardly strike fear or envy into their opponents either. And even Lippi acknowledges that this is not the most talented bunch of players he has ever worked with.
But he has been at pains to talk up their merits and remind the doubters of their past glories in similar situations, such as 1982 and 2006 when Italy overcame the odds stacked against them to emerge as unlikely World Cup winners.
“We’re going there with great confidence, with a status (as champions) to consolidate while also knowing the strengths of our opponents,” said Lippi.
Domenech lines up French squad
Tignes, France: France defender and national squad captain William Gallas was declared fit to play in the World Cup, completing coach Raymond Domenech’s 23-man line-up for South Africa.
“The 23 players (in the Tignes training camp) are the 23 for the World Cup,” Domenech said in a video posted late Monday on the website of the French Football Federation.
Domenech, who has until June 1 to officially name his squad, seems confident of Gallas’ full recovery. The FC Arsenal centre-back has been hampered by a calf muscle injury since March.
SA draw 1-1 with Bulgaria in friendly
Johannesburg: South Africa drew 1-1 with Bulgaria in a friendly as the team continued a promising buildup for the World Cup. South Africa played with confidence against a team ranked 56 places above it in the FIFA rankings and defender Siyabonga Sangweni powered home a header from a Siphiwe Tshabalala corner to give Bafana Bafana a deserved 20th-minute lead at Orlando Stadium in Soweto. Midfielder Steven Pienaar of Everton and West Ham’s Benni McCarthy watched from the bench, but are expected to play against Colombia in South Africa’s next friendly on Thursday.
Maradona’s Argentina hit five in Canada rout
Buenos Aires: Maxi Rodriguez scored twice as Argentina routed Canada 5-0 on Monday in their final match on home soil before heading to the World Cup.