Casillas and Villa on glory trail
Spain's UEFA EURO 2008-winning goalkeeper and striker are currently on international duty, beginning their quest for another major trophy. David Villa, top scorer at last year's European finals, and captain Iker Casillas, who lifted the trophy in Austria, will undoubtedly be two of the most high-profile players at the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009. FIFA.com spoke to the illustrious duo, who seem to be taking all the pressures of success in their stride.
"As reigning European Champions, expectations are much higher," Villa said. "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."
On this, his first visit to South Africa, the Valencia player is clearly excited about travelling to the continent and in particular playing in front of local fans. "Football is a truly global game which everyone should be able to enjoy," continued Spain's fifth-highest all-time marksman. "We don't choose where it's played - our job is to adapt to the conditions and do our best to win and entertain the fans, wherever in the world we may be."
Heading into this showpiece event, pride is very much at stake for the Spaniards as they look to extend a phenomenal 31-game unbeaten run and add another trophy to their cabinet. "We have high hopes for this tournament. Winning the Confederations Cup would be a terrific morale boost ahead of next year's FIFA World Cup in South Africa," said Villa.
"It may be one of the more marginal events in the football calendar, but the best sides from each continent will be taking part. There are some excellent teams, and the victors will win great acclaim and gain tremendous confidence."
Casillas fully agreed. "We're all looking forward to the Confederations Cup. Spain have never been in this competition before and naturally we're going to South Africa with the intention of winning it, which would be a great honour for each player and the national team as a whole," he told FIFA.com.
Spain will be in Group A with hosts South Africa, as well as New Zealand and Iraq. It is, on paper at least, the easier of the two groups, which is why the bookmakers have already put Spain in the semi-finals. "If we work as hard as we have up to now, I have no doubts that we'll get through the group stage," predicted Villa.
"But we'll have to give it our all. There are no easy games and, despite their records, these teams will make it very difficult for us as they'll be showing the same passion and determination to reach the final as ourselves. So although we're technically and tactically superior, we'll have to match their desire to win."
Brazil or Italy?
Should they reach the last four, Spain will be in for a real test, with Brazil and Italy favourites to qualify from Group B. So, do the Spaniards have any preferences as regards their semi-final opponents?
"They're both strong teams and along with ourselves perhaps the most obvious contenders for the title," Casillas said. "If we want to be champions, we'll have to take on the big guns, but I think the team is ready. We've already shown our talent against France, England and Italy, so why not against Brazil?"
Villa added: "It won't be easy, they're both tough teams... let's hope we meet one in the semi-final and beat the other in the final, as that would add much more weight to the achievement.
However things turn out, there is a sense that despite some fatigue after a long and gruelling season, this group of young European champions will be travelling to South Africa with a single goal, which team captain Casillas sums up best: "We're focused on one thing and one thing only: lifting the Confederations Cup."