European champions Spain will be hoping to extend their long unbeaten run this Sunday when they face New Zealand in the teams' first Group A fixture. The All Whites will not be intimidated heading into the game in Rustenburg, though, after running world champions Italy mighty close in a midweek friendly.
The two sides, who share a section with hosts South Africa and Iraq, are both short at least one first-choice player for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009. Missing for La Roja is midfield maestro Andres Iniesta, still suffering the effects of a thigh injury aggravated at the end of his extraordinary season with Barcelona. For their part, the Oceania champions are without their captain and defender Ryan Nelsen, who failed to recover in time from a calf injury.
New Zealand-Spain, 14 June, 20:30 (local time), Rustenburg
On the face of it, the fixture would appear to pit Oceania's David against Europe's Goliath. After all, Spain have in their ranks some of game's finest proponents, players like Fernando Torres, Xavi Hernandez and Iker Casillas. In contrast, the bulk of the New Zealand squad is made up of home-based players with limited international experience.
Yet for all that, there was encouragement for both sides in their recent friendly performances in the build-up to the tournament. In another master class of attacking football, the Iberians brushed aside Azerbaijan 6-0 on Tuesday night in Baku, while, 24 hours later, the Oceania side caused quite a stir by putting three past world champions Italy, who had to come from behind to secure a nervy 4-3 win late on.
David Villa vs. Shane Smeltz
The Spanish striker will not be in lacking in confidence heading into the tie after becoming the third-highest scorer in La Roja's history with his midweek hat-trick in Baku. With 28 international goals to his name, the Valencia man could even move a rung higher and overtake Fernando Hierro with a brace on Sunday in Rustenburg.
Villa's counterpart Smeltz has a few achievements of his own to be proud of, including recent OFC and Australian A-League Player of the Year awards. His goal against the Azzurri on Wednesday underlined his status as the Kiwi's most dangerous marksman and, though he cannot match the Spaniard in international standing, he clearly has what it takes to make an impression.
Spain 13-0 New Zealand, 11 September 1997, FIFA U-17 World Cup Egypt 97, Ismailia
The only other meeting of the teams in any category occurred at U-17 level, in a game remembered for producing highest winning margin in the tournament's history. Spain's Iker Casillas and New Zealand's Ben Sigmund are the only survivors from that day, though both watched the game from the bench.
32 - The number of consecutive games Spain have now gone unbeaten. Vicente del Bosque's charges are now just three away from equalling the longest unbeaten sequence of all time, a record currently held by Brazil.
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New Zealand are the tallest team in the competition, averaging an impressive 1.85m. The Kiwis will literally be towering over the likes of Santi Cazorla (1.69m) and Xavi Hernandez (1.70), the shortest two members of the Spanish squad.
"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 hope to do as well as we can," Iker Casillas, Spain goalkeeper.
"Everyone realises the opportunity a game like this offers us. A decent result against the number one team in the world would really put us on the map, and that's something which is long overdue. We can't just be happy to be the best in Oceania,"Chris Killen, New Zealand striker.