Casillas: We are the favourites
© AFP

European champions Spain have arrived in South Africa, ready to battle it out with seven other nations for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009. The contingent touched down at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on the morning of 11 June, a little behind schedule after a long flight from Azerbaijan, where they had contested their final friendly before the 'Festival of Champions'.

"The match against Azerbaijan was just a friendly, but it was important to maintain the unbeaten run which we have put together in the World Cup qualifiers," said keeper and captain Iker Casillas, after a 6-0 success which included a David Villa hat-trick. "The main benefit of the friendly was playing together again after two months, and we really clicked." 

Spain have now gone 32 games without defeat, a streak which has the whole La Roja squad on a high. "In past tournaments we were billed as favourites which wasn't realistic but now, for the first time, I really believe we are, so we want to achieve something great and win the title," continued Casillas, who has already tasted victory in South Africa at the Meridian Cup in 1999, where Spain beat Ghana 2-1 in the final.

We're taking on the role of favourites, and we hope to give our all, but the main thing is that the fans enjoy the tournament.
Iker Casillas

Coach Vicente del Bosque was a little more restrained, but equally optimistic. "We're here as reigning European champions, but we have the utmost respect for our opponents. We're taking on the role of favourites, and we will give our all, but the main thing is that the fans enjoy the tournament," he said.

And Casillas also underlined that there is no room for complacency as "in football there are no easy games, and all our opponents will be determined to beat us because Spain are a world power".

Spain will play their opening Group A game on Sunday 14 June at 20.30 local time against New Zealand in Rustenburg, before travelling to Bloemfontein to take on Iraq (17 June) and South Africa (20 June).

"We're hoping to win it, but each team is here on merit and has a chance. I hope that we manage to put on a good show for the fans and that they enjoy the tournament. We can't wait to get underway," chipped in Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso.

The coach has done his homework and expects all players to be fit and ready for their first training session on Thursday in Rustenburg, having arrived there from Johannesburg. "We have all the information we could possibly need on our opponents and although we've just come through a demanding season, we're in high spirits and great shape," said Del Bosque.

"Although we're still defending our unbeaten run, our primary goal is to win this competition," pointed out Alonso, who also had a few words to say on the host nation. "Organising this tournament will be a good dress rehearsal ahead of next year's World Cup, and I'm sure everyone will be up to the challenge."