After three games, Spain have amassed nine points, scoring eight goals, conceding none, and playing fantastic football along the way. With records for consecutive wins and matches unbeaten to their name, what more could la Selección have wanted from the group stage of the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009? In discussion with FIFA.com, some of the stars of this high-flying Spanish side gave their thoughts on their team’s scintillating form.
Did someone say perfection? Incredible as it may seem, the Spanish players seem convinced that the best is yet to come. “There’s always something to improve upon, and it is vital that we keep working on our flaws,” says Liverpool midfielder Albert Riera.
And what might these flaws be? Riera is about to reply, but hesitates and gives a laugh. “You won’t get them out of me that easily. But seriously, there are several things we need to work on. For example we like to pass the ball around and keep possession but in some games we get a bit bogged down as there are a lot of players behind the ball, like against Iraq, and in such cases we need to make more use of the flanks. We’ve been working on that quite a lot.”
What is certain is that the Spaniards' touch and ball retention, aside from captivating purists of the beautiful game, have been devastatingly effective. With three FIFA Confederations Cup wins so far, 5-0 against New Zealand, 1-0 against Iraq and 2-0 against hosts South Africa, La Roja have equalled one record and broken another.
The team has gone 35 matches unbeaten, its last defeat coming in a 1-0 friendly reverse by Romania in Cadiz in November 2006. That means Spain draw level with Brazil, who went undefeated for the same number of matches between 1993 and 1996. Incredibly, Spain have emerged victorious from the last 15 games of that run, a feat which is in itself another record, surpassing the 14 consecutive wins notched up by Brazil and Australia in 1997.
“We’ve beaten so many records over the last few years that by now we’re almost used to it,” says David Villa, whose three goals in the group stage meant he reached the milestone of Spain’s all-time second-highest goalscorer on 31 goals behind Raul Gonzalez on 44. “The main thing is to keep winning, and that will now get a lot harder as we enter the semi-finals, but it’s nice to know that this team will go down in history. What I’m most pleased about when looking at the list of top scorers is that they’re true legends of Spanish football. I couldn’t be prouder,” he adds.
Attack, defence and harmony
Much has been said about their touch and goalscoring ability, but another facet of Spain’s game so far in the FIFA Confederations Cup group stage has been an almost impregnable defence. La Selección have not shipped a single goal in South Africa, which is hardly front-page news given that in their 35-match unbeaten run they have kept a clean sheet on no fewer than 25 occasions.
In the same period, the only time a team has managed to score twice against them was in an 3-2 friendly win over Greece in Thessaloniki back in August 2007. “All positions are directly related,” explains goalkeeper Pepe Reina. “A team which can keep the ball usually defends better. Tight defences are a product of well-run teams.”
And Spain truly are a team. In the group stage, with the exception of third-choice goalkeeper Diego Lopez, each and every player in the 22-man squad was given playing time. That is a situation which coach Vicente del Bosque clearly encourages, and is a contributing factor to what is seen as another key to La Roja’s phenomenal success: the positive atmosphere throughout the squad.
“We’ve already gone through the experience of living together during UEFA EURO 2008. We enjoy each other’s company both on and off the pitch and I think that shows in the way we play. There’s great harmony within the team and I honestly think that without it, we wouldn’t have achieved so much,” says right-back Sergio Ramos.
The Andalusian defender reveals that the squad is keeping itself entertained in South Africa by betting on who will be the tournament’s top scorer. “I’ve got my money on Torres, so for now I’m doing well,” he laughs. “We’re here for quite a while, so we have to find ways to have some fun, and I think that’s what we’re doing. It’s a happy camp.” And with the results Spain are achieving, why wouldn’t it be?