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Spain bid to improve on history of flops

Spain make eighth straight appearance in WC with hopes of success looking bleak.

india Updated: May 10, 2006 17:05 IST

Another tournament, another disappointment? Spain make their eighth straight appearance in the World Cup with hopes of success understandably low.

A soccer giant at club level, the national team has lifted only one major trophy— the 1964 European Championship. Spain have played in 11 tournaments overall, but has only won 19 out of 45 games. Their best finish was the fourth place they achieved in 1950.

The latest coach charged with helping Spain to live up to their potential is 67-year-old Luis Aragones, who is unbeaten in 19 matches since replacing Inaki Saez after the team's flop at Euro 2004.

Aragones says he believes Spain can reach the last four, although they could face five-time champions Brazil in the quarterfinals— the team's stumbling block in two of the last three tournaments.

"It's my professional ambition and I try to transmit to the players that we have to achieve it, that we're going to achieve it. That this time the myth will be ended. That we're going to get past the quarterfinals," Aragones said recently.

The coach, who was fined by the Spanish soccer federation in 2005 for using a racist remark about France striker Thierry Henry, said the team has to be able to survive uncomfortable moments. Every World Cup-winning team has struggled on its way to the title, he said.

"To win, you have to know how to suffer," Aragones said. Spain look to face a mild introduction to the tournament this time.

The Spanish team faces Ukraine in Group H in Leipzig on June 14, Tunisia in Stuttgart on the 19th and Saudi Arabia in Kaiserslautern four days later.

"It's a good group and on paper Spain and Ukraine are favorites, although you have to demonstrate it on the field. In general, I'm satisfied," Aragones said.

Spain hope to benefit from the greater experience of a group of players who have moved to England in the last two seasons— goalkeeper Pepe Reina, defender Asier Del Horno, forwards Luis Garcia and Fernando Morientes, and midfielders Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas.

The 19-year-old Fabregas has forced himself into Aragones' reckoning with his impressive displays in Arsenal's run to the Champions League final.

A debutant in Spain's 3-2 win over Ivory Coast in a friendly in March, the midfielder looks set for inclusion in the 23-man squad for the finals, particularly if FC Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez doesn't regain top form following a serious knee injury earlier in the season.

"I think I'm capable of doing whatever I'm asked to do. It takes mental strength but for the moment things are going well for me," Fabregas said.

Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres, who has scored nine goals in 27 international appearances, is expected to lead Spain's attack. Shrouded in doubts about his form, captain and the national team's all-time leading scorer Raul Gonzalez may be less involved this time, while David Villa's prolific scoring in this season's Spanish league with Valencia boosts his chances of action in his debut in a major tournament.

"It will be very important for us to start with a win against Ukraine," Villa told sports daily As. "Getting our first three points would give us a real lift."

Liverpool's Alonso, Valencia's David Albelda and perhaps Fabregas and another newcomer, Villarreal's Brazilian-born Marcos Senna, are in the running for central midfield roles.

Arsenal's Jose Antonio Reyes, Real Betis' Joaquin Sanchez and Liverpool's Garcia are hoping to occupy forward roles on the wings, although Valencia left winger Vicente Rodriguez may be ruled out with injury.

Barcelona captain Carles Puyol should partner Atletico Madrid's Pablo Ibanez at the heart of the defense in front of Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas. The fullback roles are likely to go to Atletico's Antonio Lopez and Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos.