domingo, 14 de marzo de 2010

Ya me voy poniendo nervioso

OK, so now I'm officially nervous. After Spain's brilliant win in Paris against France in Wednesday's friendly, everyone is abuzz with a heavy kind of f-word: favourites. And I'm talking about the foreign press as much as the locals.

Historically, Spain have always gone into international finals as dark horses, left-field options, outside chances, thinking man's punt (or deluded man's, depending on your point of view). Now, we are the side to beat. Even the odd Brazilian or two are saying it, which is the highest praise in football, bar none.

And the amazing thing is that, far from making Spaniards worry, the atmosphere seems to be one of relishing the 'favourites' tag. Real Madrid and Barcelona have both had their years when they were the most respected club side in the world and used these tags to go and achieve what they were expected to do. Five Champions' Cups in a row. Six trophies in a year. But the national team, la selección, had never before achieved a similar status. This is uncharted territory.

And of course, this is not only talk: Euro 2008 is still fresh in the minds as the moment when the mirage really turned into an oasis. The question then was right away, as it is now - can we win the World Cup? Sí, se puede, if I may quote Barack Obama for a moment.

In previous World Cups I didn't really care much for results in friendlies. Most times they showed that the club season was what everyone was focusing on, and that there was still a lot of work to do in terms of cohesion. Same thing for most other nations. Let's be cautious.

But this Spain side looks so much the finished article, and has been for so long now that it's making other people scared and us proud and worried at the same time. Brilliant play but have we peaked too soon? What will happen if there are injuries, or worse still, will some players be injury-free, but too tired and it's too late to notice? Is it going to be a case of making us as big as they can to make us fall as hard as possible?

This team seem to have answers for those questions: as their main weapon is the style of play, it's not very likely to suffer from varying levels of fitness (no-one is going to forget how to pass a ball all of a sudden), and there are plenty of replacements for most positions in the field (I worry a bit about central defence, but who doesn't?). As for being experienced under big expectations, it's difficult to find a player in the side without international trophies. Or on the bench.

I see two main problems: the first is that since Spain became European champions, the two following years haven't really brought big challenges to this team, so by the time we learn we can be beaten by a big team, we will have been beaten by a big team, and we'll be back home - witness what happened in the last World Cup: you top your group, France doesn't, you play them, they beat you, and that's the end of it. The World Cup qualification group was straighforward enough, and Spain were helped by the main challengers (Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia), taking points off each other.

In the Confederations Cup, by quirks of the calendar and some surprise results, Spain came back without having to face Italy or Brazil, and that's where the other main problem happened: the unexpected defeat against the USA shows that no-one is really safe from an off-day, and in a World Cup an off-day after the group game means you're going to have another week off or two. Spain's record under Vicente del Bosque reads played 23, won 22 lost 1. That 1 cost us a trophy, and it would be really heartbreaking that something similar could happen in the biggest stage of all when you have the best team you've ever had.

That's why I say, I'm officially nervous.

No hay comentarios: