It's been 32 games and nearly that many months since the Spaniards lost a football match. In that time, they've won their first international tournament since the 1964 European Cup (which they hosted) and established "La Roja" as a model of attacking, attractive footy. So it's little wonder they enter this spring's Confederations Cup as favorites, and not just speculative or fashion favorites like in the past. Spain in 2009 are the book's pick, the conventional wisdom, currently listed at 6/4 to win a trophy in South Africa.
Fernando Torres, David Villa, Xavi, Sergio Ramos, David Silva, Iker Casillas... what could possibly go wrong??
The Spanish team at Euro 2008 earned its Champagne reputation. They were fun to watch, even as they scratched their way past the killjoy Hun in a tight final. Ask ten fans which player they remember most fondly from that team and five will say Villa (all those early goals), two will pick Xavi (voted best, the maestro), two will say Torres (the cup final winner as a lone striker)... But just one (me!) will say Marcos Senna.
Yes, Marcos Senna. With a suspect center backs behind him, attack-minded full backs shooting up his flanks, and quick and brilliant but small attacking midfielders playing in his path, Senna was the rock, the guy who let Xavi and Iniesta conjure up their tricks.
How good was he? I mean, Luis Aragones loved him.
But Marcos Senna will not be in South Africa. He's injured, and for that matter, so is Iniesta. Spain have enough playmakers to push on through the Barca man's injury, but one has to wonder if they have the metal to replace Senna. Neither Busquets-- a good ball-winner, but young-- or Xabi Alonso can play "the Senna role."
That said, they don't need to be as good, or play the exact same game to repeat last summer's result. They have some options now. The first possibility is that someone steps up Senna's absence. Not an impossibility, but again, who? Convince me. Another is that they score more goals... kick it around like Barca... the Cruyff Defense. This squad is built to score and with the confidence they're likely to build against the Group A minnows, it could be enough to carry them on their way.
And speaking of.. That draw is of a particular advantage to the Spaniards. Their group includes Iraq, New Zealand, and hosts South Africa, who'll likely be eliminated from a semi-final place by the time the teams meet on June 20, in the final group match.
Managing it all is Vicente del Bosque, a quiet fella who knows how to handle supreme talent, as evidenced by his supreme results with Real Madrid galacticos teams from 1999-2003. Del Bosque has brought his "A" team to Africa, and given Spain's recent run of international success-- the Euros, then Barca-- you have to think they are serious about keeping the streak alive.
Prediction: An easy first round draw sees Spain matched up with the second seed in Group B, which I think will be a surprise Egypt or USMNT. No matter, it will be on to the final and a matchup with... Italia! And like in Vienna's Ernst Happel Stadion a year ago, the Spaniards will prevail.
More predictions from the UF squad later in the day.