On a scale of one to ten, Spain's performance in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ can only be given top marks. On top of wins in each of their ten games, La Roja were the European Zone's second top scorers with 28 goals while conceding a miserly five at the other end. Maturity, resilience and the ability to overcome adversity were all in evidence during their campaign, and few national teams in world football are blessed with squads of such depth and sheer talent. The Iberians have not rested on the laurels of their UEFA EURO 2008 victory, consistently bringing in new faces without renouncing their commitment to attractive short-passing football.
The road to South Africa
The title of European champions inevitably meant that Spain's opponents redoubled their efforts to claim what would be a notable scalp. Their narrow 1-0 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina - courtesy of a solitary strike from David Villa - was typical of the kind of gritty resistance they have had to overcome since Austria/Switzerland. And though Armenia and Estonia were dispatched relatively comfortably, an away clash in Belgium and a double-header against EURO 2008 semi-finalists Turkey forced the Spaniards to dig deep for nine valuable points.
Following a 2-1 win in Brussels, when they fought back to clinch victory via an 88th-minute Villa strike, came a 1-0 success over Turkey in Madrid, the goal coming from Gerard Pique. The return in Istanbul marked another 2-1 comeback triumph courtesy of goals from Xabi Alonso and then Liverpool team-mate Albert Riera. Belgium were subsequently dispatched 5-0 in La Coruna and a ticket to South Africa 2010 was assured with two rounds to spare after a comfortable 3-0 home win over Estonia. Far from taking their foot off the pedal, La Selección capped a flawless campaign with victory in Armenia and a 5-2 away thrashing of closest challengers Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The star players
The team's success has been based on quality and balance throughout the side. In captain Iker Casillas Spain have one of the world's finest keepers, a man who can be relied upon to bring his superhuman reflexes to the rescue when most needed. Midfield string-puller Xavi Hernandez's inch-perfect passing and vision is vital to the Spaniards' fluid style, while at the sharp end of the attack there can be few if any better finishers than David Villa and Fernando 'El Niño' Torres.
Vicente del Bosque took over where Luis Aragones left off after the EURO 2008 triumph, keeping the same footballing philosophy and core of players which dazzled the continent that summer. The experienced supremo has also hit the heights at club level with Real Madrid, winning two UEFA Champions Leagues (2000, 2002), two La Ligas (2001, 2003), a Spanish Super Cup (2001) a UEFA European Super Cup (2002) and the Toyota Intercontinental Cup (2002).
Del Bosque continued Aragones' faith in the one-touch style that has traditionally characterised Spain's play and which relies upon midfielders of the highest quality. As a recult, the Spaniards have won every game but one since the former Los Blancos boss took charge, the exception being a semi-final reverse against USA at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009.
Previous FIFA World Cups
- Spain have taken part in the finals of 12 FIFA World Cups and have not missed a single edition since failing to reach Germany 1974.
- La Roja's best performance at the global showpiece was a fourth-placed finish at Brazil 1950.
- At senior international level, Spain have two major titles to their name: the 1964 and 2008 European Championships.
- Spain recorded ten wins from ten South Africa 2010 qualifiers.
- La Selección were the European Zone's second-highest scorers, firing 28 goals to end the campaign just six strikes short of the Fabio Capello's England.
"We've got good players and a well-oiled team, but there are some very strong sides out there. Our aim is to challenge for the next World Cup but we know how difficult it is. We're not the favourites but we are among the hopefuls." Vicente del Bosque, Spain coach.