European champions Spain have one of the most complete sides in world football and an in-depth squad packed full of talent, but a spate of injuries to key players is disrupting the preparations for their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Liverpool forward Fernando Torres, Arsenal playmaker Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona's creative midfielder Andres Iniesta all missed the tail end of their respective league seasons due to injury leaving coach Vicente del Bosque with a major headache.
The three youngsters were pivotal for Spain in their UEFA EURO 2008 success and Del Bosque is sweating on their fitness ahead of the South Africa showpiece. The 26-year-old Torres, who scored the winner in the 1-0 2008 final win over Germany, had to have a knee operation to repair cartilage torn in a UEFA Europa League match against Benfica on 8 April and has not played since.
Torres has been plagued by injuries over the past few seasons and faces a battle to be fit for Spain's opening Group H match against Switzerland on 16 June. "It's been a hard year due to injuries, and it's a massive shame that I haven't been able to play more matches," said Torres. "Now all I have left to look forward to is to try and be fit for South Africa. I have been waiting four years for this and, if all goes well, I do not anticipate missing it."
Arsenal captain Fabregas, 23, is another player on the sidelines having suffered a fracture in his right leg during his side's UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg match on 31 March. Fabregas, 23, missed the remainder of the season although he is confident of making the FIFA World Cup.
"On May 24, I will join up with the Spanish national team and should be able to join in a bit when we play Saudi Arabia five days later," said Fabregas recently. "Now I just have to be patient, making sure I come back as strongly as I can. The timing is looking good for the World Cup."
Iniesta, 25, is another star performer on the treatment table after tearing a muscle in his right leg. The Barcelona midfielder has not played since 10 April and is fighting against the clock to be match fit for the FIFA World Cup. "This is one of my most difficult moments, but life has taught me not to give up," said Iniesta.
The Spanish media has voiced its concern at the three injuries and the latest concern is experienced Barcelona midfielder Xavi. The 30-year-old Xavi, a crucial player for Spain and voted best player at Euro 2008, has been playing with a calf injury during the title run-in to help out Barcelona.
Spain had a clean bill of health when they surged to European championship glory under Luis Aragones, however, his successor Del Bosque has much more problems knowing that even if the players get back fit they will lack match sharpness having not played competitive matches.
If the progress from a group featuring Switzerland, Honduras and Chile, Spain will need star performers such as Torres, Fabregas, Xavi and Iniesta for the last 16 when they could face Brazil or Portugal.