2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™

9 June - 9 July

2006 FIFA World Cup™

Rejuvenated Raul rides again

With ten days to go before his country's opening game against Ukraine at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, skipper Raul has chosen just the right moment to rediscover his scoring touch.

His goal in Saturday night's friendly against Egypt was his first of 2006 and will have gone some way towards silencing the doubters who had questioned his place in the Spain side.

Coach Luis Aragones continues to switch his formations and changed to a 4-4-2 against Egypt with Raul slotting in as a withdrawn striker at the tip of a midfield diamond. Far from reducing his scoring options, though, the position seemed to suit the Real Madrid man down to the ground. "Now I can pop up where they least expect me," said Raul.

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Raul's strike came when Egypt keeper Essam Al Hadari spilled a drive from outside the box and the 28-year-old turned in the rebound from close range. It was vintage Raul, a classic combination of stealthy poaching, instinctive positioning and subtle finishing skills. Evidence, Spain fans will hope, that the archetypal penalty-box predator is back.

It has been a long wait, his last goal for Spain coming in a 1-1 draw against Serbia and Montenegro in last September's FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Vicente Calderon. The previous time he had hit the back of the net in any competitive match was for Real Madrid against Deportivo La Coruna on 26 October.

That goal preceded the most serious injury of the iconic striker's ten-year career in top-flight football, when he damaged his left knee cap, external meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament against Barcelona in November. After avoiding the surgeon's knife and coming through a rehabilitation programme, the forward returned to action with Madrid some three months later. Despite working his way back into the side, though, rediscovering his scoring touch has proved less straightforward.

Seven months and seven days after that dipping strike against Deportivo, however, Raul was finally able to kiss his wedding ring once more as he wheeled away from goal in familiar style. He celebrated the spell-breaking goal – his 43rd in 94 international appearances – with his team-mates as if it were his first. His passion for la Selección clearly remains undiminished.

Arsenal winger Jose Antonio Reyes rounded off an encouraging evening with a superb free-kick, and spoke afterwards of his satisfaction: "It was a good goal. It's always nice to score and I'm very happy. That's the way I usually hit them, and the hard work on the training ground is paying off. We've been training for a while now and things are coming along nicely."

All the indications are then that Spain's long-suffering fans can approach that opening game against Ukraine with confidence.