RUSTENBURG (South Africa): A rampant Spain are gunning to boost their phenomenal 32-match unbeaten streak in their Confederations Cup opener against minnows New Zealand tomorrow.
The European champions are fired up to lift their first ever FIFA trophy as well as overturn Brazil’s world record of 35 matches without defeat between 1993 and 1996.
Veteran coach Vicente del Bosque, who replaced Luis Aragones after the Euro 2008 final triumph, should have little to fear from a team ranked 81 places below them, but there is no room for complacency.
The All Whites showed they can be a danger if given space in their narrow 4-3 defeat to world champions Italy in a warm-up match this week.
On paper, Spain, who have not lost since November 2006, have too much ammunition.
With the exception of Andres Iniesta, who has pulled out injured, Del Bosque has at his disposal a glittering array of talent headed by Fernando Torres, the Liverpool striker who sunk Germany in the Euro final.
And then there is Torres’ strike partner David Villa (pic), who with four goals ended up as the Euro’s top scorer despite the Valencia marksman missing the final itself with injury.
In midfield are the likes of Premier League stars Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso and Barcelona’s Xavi while his team-mate Carles Puyol and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos feature in defence with the commanding presence of Ramos’ team-mate, Iker Casillas, in goal.
The pressure to perform, and the cold conditions in the northwest mining town of Rustenburg, are likely to be their only hurdles to posting another victory.
“As reigning European champions, expectations are much higher,” admitted Villa.
“We know we’ve got to go out and defend our style of play. But we must keep our feet on the ground and take one game at a time, hopefully all the way to the final.
“Winning the Confederations Cup would be a terrific morale boost ahead of next year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa.”
All Whites coach Ricki Herbert is acutely aware of Spain’s pedigree.
“I think what we’ve seen from Spain since they were crowned European Champions has been that they’ve gone on and comprehensively beaten all the other big nations in the world,” he said.
“It’s a big task against a fantastic team. It could be a tough night.”
While not throwing in the towel just yet, Herbert admits his team’s best hopes of getting something out of the tournament come against South Africa and Iraq.
“I think our focus is on South Africa and Iraq in terms of what we can get from this tournament, but it’s important we address this game in the best way we possibly can with the right focus,” he said.
Herbert, who is missing injured captain and Blackburn star Ryan Nelsen, will be looking to the experience of players like Celtic’s Chris Killen and Oceania Player of the Year Shane Smeltz to guide his young side.
While Spain are playing their first Confederations Cup, New Zealand have been in the tournament twice before – in Mexico in 1999 and France in 2003. But they have a sorry record. In their six matches they have failed to pick up a point, scoring just two goals. — AFP