December 2009’s Final Draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ threw up a markedly Latin-flavoured Group H, with Honduras, Chile and Spain matched alongside the section’s only non-Spanish speakers, Switzerland. Intriguingly, the former trio were drawn together in the same group as recently as the 2005 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, where it was Morocco’s turn to be the odd ones out.
Of the players who appeared at Netherlands 2005, a number have since made the leap up to senior international level. Spain stars Fernando Llorente, David Silva, Raul Albiol and Cesc Fabregas all featured on Dutch soil five years ago, and the latter three were also part of the Spanish squad which triumphed at UEFA EURO 2008.
"Here we’re all equal and we’re going to play as a team," said Fabregas in 2005, in words that ring true here at South Africa 2010. "I’m nothing without my team-mates and they need me too. We’re all in it together."
At that global showpiece, rangy front-man Llorente helped himself to four goals and Silva grabbed a brace in a 7-0 thrashing of Chile, who, remarkably, had already put seven goals without reply past Honduras. Featuring for Los Catrachos were current squad members Ramon Nunez and Emilio Izaguirre, while finding the net for the Chileans were Matias Fernandez and Gonzalo Jara: both key figures for La Roja’s senior supremo Marcelo Bielsa.
"Matias scores loads of goals. He’s a lad who is on his way to stardom," said then Chile U-20 coach Jose Sulantay, whose side exited that tournament after finishing third behind Spain and Morocco in Group C.
His Honduras opposite number, Ruben Guifarro, was also effusive in his praise for midfield man Nunez: "Ramon’s an attacking midfielder who’s had a very good grounding in the game. He’s got a lot of ability and despite not being the tallest he’s quick and knows where the goal is."
In the Chilean dressing room back in 2005 was another member of Bielsa’s South Africa 2010 squad, midfield dynamo Carlos Carmona, who returned to the FIFA U-20 World Cup stage at Canada 2007. The latter squad contained current internationals Mauricio Isla, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Gary Medel and battled all the way to third spot in Canada. That impressive run was soon rewarded by Bielsa, who handed the young players the opportunity to establish themselves during South American Zone qualifying.
Spain boss Vicente del Bosque also boasts two individuals from that Canadian summer, in Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique, a player who continues to grow in stature at the Catalan giants, and versatile Valencia forward Juan Manuel Mata.
"There’s no crisis (in Spanish football)," Pique told us at the time, in a statement that now seems eerily prophetic given Spain’s 2008 continental triumph and their favourites’ tag at these finals. "Year in, year out there’s a lot of talent coming through. We can be confident of a successful future. There’s guaranteed quality at youth level." How right he was, given Spain’s subsequent continental triumph and their 100 per cent record in European Zone qualifying for these finals.
Youthful quality is clearly not confined to the Spanish ranks however, and the matches in Group H should provide the perfect platform for the talented youngsters who have made the hardest step up of all - from underage starlet to FIFA World Cup performer.