Slowly but surely, Spain are recovering from the shock and disappointment of their semi-final defeat to the USA. The dominant feeling now within the squad is one of determination to bow out of the FIFA Confederations Cup on a positive note, and that means with a win against hosts South Africa in the match for third place.
The fixture is a repeat of the final Group A game in which La Roja downed Bafana Bafana 2-0 with goals from David Villa and Fernando Llorente. The Athletic Bilbao forward may feature again on Sunday, but competition for places in Vicente del Bosque's starting XI is intense. First-choice front men Villa and Fernando Torres are particularly keen to play, with the duo joint leaders alongside Brazil's Luis Fabiano [three goals apiece] in the race for the adidas Golden Shoe.
“I got some playing time and I scored a goal. It’s very important that I rack up experience by taking any opportunities the coach gives me, and I’m delighted he’s placed so much confidence in me,” Llorente told FIFA.com.
Despite the personal satisfaction at taking part in his first major tournament with La Roja, Llorente, one of Del Bosque’s new recruits, shares his team-mates’ sense of disappointment at having been one game away from a dream final. “We’re a bit sad because we really wanted to make the final. It would’ve been great to take on Brazil, but it wasn’t to be, so we have to try and win our last game in order to leave the tournament on a high,” he said.
The striker is fully aware that the match against South Africa cannot be taken lightly. Joel Santana’s men will be in high spirits, having held the Seleção for 88 minutes in the semi-final match, and will give their all in order to finish with a win for their home fans. “They played well against Brazil and had a lot of chances, all they needed was a goal,” said Llorente. “South Africa have been improving with every game, so this match will be harder than the last one. They will have learned from the group game and will therefore be stronger.”
“From midfield onwards they have players who are very quick, skilful and powerful, so we know we can’t give them any space,” he added.
Spain head into their final game of this Festival of Champions determined to take nothing for granted. If this tournament has taught them anything, said Llorente, “it's that every team are dangerous and there are no easy matches”.
But now that their run of 35 games without a loss, including 15 consecutive wins, has ended, the players do not want to hear about their getting a dose of humility nor the relief of finally being able to forget about records. “It’s neither one nor the other. We were playing excellent football, with which we got great results, but this team never lacked humility,” Llorente said.
“This is a terrific bunch of players and, despite the defeat, I’m convinced this is the best squad we could have. I’m extremely proud and honoured to be here,” said the attacker, who has scored two goals in his four games for the Iberians.
“Our defeat gives us more experience ahead of the [FIFA] World Cup. We played well against the USA and created a lot of chances, but they had a good deal of luck at the back and we were unfortunate going forward,” he asserted. “Sometimes it feels like it’s just not your day.”
And does he dare make a prediction for the final? “I think Brazil will win, but you never know," said Llorente. "They better be on their guard!”