World Cup 2006 Preview – Spain

Outright Odds: 14/1
Group H Winners: 4/6

Spain, yet again, are tipped as dark horses for the World Cup and 2006 will finally end years of disappointment and this generation of players will fulfil their undoubted potential. But they won’t. For all their individual talent they can never motivate themselves to rise to the challenge.

They are, of course, mainstays of the World Cup and 2006 will be their eight tournament in a row they have qualified for dating back to 1978. The quarter finals is as far as they have gone since then so why the obsession that this will be “their year”?

Spain qualified via the play-offs after finishing runners-up to Serbia & Montenegro in their group. Luis Aragones’ side were unbeaten in 10 qualifiers but five draws and five wins meant they needed to square –off against Slovakia in order to secure their place in Germany. It was all over after the first leg as Spain ran out 5-1 winners before drawing 1-1 in the return leg to win 6-2 on aggregate.

Perhaps the cause for such optimism lies with the manager. Under Aragones, Spain are unbeaten in 18 games since he took over in July 2004, although the players must also take some credit.

Spain have unearthed a real attacking talent in Fernando Torres. The 21-year-old Atletico Madrid striker was the European qualifying zone’s joint fourth top goalscorer with seven goals and he is a target for both Arsenal and Chelsea. Torres is seen as the natural successor to Spain’s most-capped outfield player and all-time leading goalscorer Raul.

At 28, Raul should be at his peak for the finals but a cruciate knee ligament injury suffered in November raises questions over just how influential he will be. One more excuse for a potentially underachieving tournament?

September’s qualifier against Serbia & Montenegro set a new record as it was the first time a foreign club, Liverpool, had more representatives in the national squad than any Spanish club side. Will the likes of Jose Reina, Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia transfer their excellent club performances onto the grand stage? While Fernando Morientes, with five goals in seven World Cup appearances means he is a threat even though his domestic form has been somewhat indifferent.

Recommended Bet
The notorious underachievers face a tough opening match prospect in the Ukraine and will need to get up to speed for their remaining two matches which they will be fully expected to win. The opening match will also be Ukraine’s first ever World Cup appearance and with both sides keen to avoid defeat, a draw is the likely result.

Spain vs Ukraine draw @ 11/5

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