MADRID, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Factbox on World Cup holders
Form and Prospects
Although the holders ultimately qualified comfortably for
the finals, they struggled at times against the ultra-defensive
tactics that the vast majority of their opponents fall back on.
Always able to dominate possession for long periods, they
found it tough to break through massed ranks of defenders and
1-1 qualifying draws at home to Finland and France exposed a
worrying inability to kill opponents off and a weakness for
conceding late goals.
Coach Vicente del Bosque has a settled defence and a
midfield built around the Barcelona trio of Xavi, Sergio
Busquets and Andres Iniesta and Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso but it
is up front where he faces perhaps his most difficult choices.
Often foregoing a traditional centre forward, Del Bosque has
regularly deployed Barca playmaker Cesc Fabregas in a roving
'false nine' role with the likes of David Silva, Pedro, David
Villa and Jesus Navas buzzing around on either wing.
The coach can also turn to the more muscular talents of
strikers like Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente and Atletico
Madrid's Brazil-born forward Diego Costa who has chosen to make
himself available for his adopted country.
With his intelligent runs, strength on the ball, deadly
finishing and prowess in the air, Costa could be just the player
Spain need to unsettle opposition defences and he has some of
the world's best passers to provide him with service.
Another conundrum for Del Bosque is the goalkeeping slot
with captain Iker Casillas, a fixture for Spain for more than a
decade, out of favour at Real.
Victor Valdes has been in inspired form for Barca this
season but dropping Casillas, even if he is not playing
regularly for Real, could unsettle the defence.
Del Bosque will want to avoid a repeat of June's
Confederations Cup final, when an aggressive Brazil beat them
3-0 in Rio de Janeiro, so expect a more physical approach from a
Spanish team that will still look to wear opponents down by
Coach: Vicente del Bosque
Del Bosque pledged continuity when he succeeded Luis
Aragones after Spain's victory at Euro 2008 and delivered
spectacularly by leading the country to their first World Cup
triumph in South Africa two years later and a second straight
European Championship crown in 2012.
A self-confessed football romantic, the mild-mannered
62-year-old has led 'La Roja' to 68 wins in 84 matches,
including an unbeaten qualifying campaign for next year's
While Aragones favoured a brasher style and provoked his
players in order to inspire them, Del Bosque is a more avuncular
figure, quietly coaxing the best out of a hugely talented squad
and fostering a harmonious atmosphere.
"It is better to lose than project a negative image," he has
said. "You have to behave well and play fair."
Key player: Andres Iniesta
The 29-year-old Andres Iniesta will always have a special
place in the hearts of Spanish fans for scoring the dramatic
extra-time goal that secured the country's first World Cup.
The pale, shy midfielder from the Manchegan village of
Fuentealbilla has perhaps not been at his scintillating best
this season but has a habit of scoring vital goals for club and
His extra-time winner against Chelsea in the semi-finals of
the Champions League in 2009 showcased his fabulous technique
and he popped up in exactly the right place to smash home the
116th-minute winner against Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup
final in Johannesburg.
Xavi, Fabregas and Villa have strong cases for being
considered Spain's star player but it will be no surprise if
Iniesta again proves decisive at the finals.
How they qualified: Winners European Group I
Sept 11 Georgia A W 1-0 Soldado
Oct 12 Belarus A W 4-0 Pedro 3, Alba
Oct 16 France H D 1-1 Ramos
March 22 Finland H D 1-1 Ramos
March 26 France A W 1-0 Pedro
Sept 6 Finland A W 2-0 Alba, Negredo
Oct 11 Belarus H W 2-1 Xavi, Negredo
Oct 15 Georgia H W 2-0 Negredo, Mata
World Cup record:
Previous appearances: 13 (1934, 1950, 1962, 1966, 1978,
1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)
Best performances: Winners 2010
Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 5-1
(Reporting by Iain Rogers editing by Tony Jimenez)