Spanish-speaking football fans might want to follow Group H. Apart from the obvious attraction of the world’s top-ranked team, it contains two other Spanish speaking sides: Honduras and Chile.
The world’s number one ranked team, Spain had their 35-match unbeaten run shockingly ended in the semi-finals of the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup by the USA. However, that was the only setback they suffered during the year as they won the other 15 matches they played, scoring 47 goals and conceding only 12 along the way. Those excellent results earned Spain the title as Fifa Team of the Year.
The current European champions are blessed with talent and depth at every position. The vast majority of their players ply their trade in Spain, which helps when it comes to preparation. Those who are stationed elsewhere are with top European clubs.
Spain’s play is composed and assured – one of the results of winning becoming a habit. Their defence is solid and unyielding, their midfielders talented as a unit and able to create opportunities, and their strikers have a cutting edge. They are, in a word, complete.
The only thing standing between the Spaniards and their making a big impact in South Africa is their previous failures in big Fifa tournaments, but many would argue that those days are now over following their victory in Euro 2008.
Since that time they have continued to wrack up victory after victory and there has been no sign that they will slow down any time soon. Their team is sprinkled with experience, but overall they are astonishingly young, although many of their youngesters have played for some years on the big stage of the Uefa Champions League.
Spain’s coach Vicente Del Bosque is a largely unheralded part of their success, but his ability to work with a squad of superstars and to get the best out of them has resulted in a stunning run of success.
Switzerland booked their place in South Africa after topping a competitive qualifying group that also included Greece (which went on to secure a place in South Africa), Latvia, and Israel. In 10 matches, they conceded only eight goals.
During 2009, the Swiss played nine matches, won four of them, drew four, and lost only one.
Their star player is striker Alexander Frei. He is also captain of the Swiss and carries much of the burden of their hopes in South Africa. By the end of 2009, he had scored an outstanding 40 goals in 73 internationals. It is a record that places him in elite company. For instance, a player like 2008 Fifa World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 22 times in 68 internationals.
The Swiss are coached by Ottmar Hitzfeld, who has won 18 major titles during his coaching career. Most of that time was spent coaching German giants Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich but, interestingly, he got his start in coaching in Switzerland with FC Zug in 1983. He coached in the country until 1991, also taking charge of FC Aarau and Grasshoppers Zurich.
Speaking to Fifa.com, Hitzfeld commented: “If my father had known I’d be this successful as Switzerland coach – not as Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund coach – he’d have been overjoyed. It’s the place we call home, you see.”
Honduras secured a place in South Africa by finishing third in Concacaf qualifying behind the United States and Mexico after four rounds of qualifying. Along the way, they topped a tricky third round group also featuring Mexico, Jamaica and Canada.
2009 was a busy year for Honduras. They played 24 matches, winning 15 of them, losing eight and drawing only one. They had particular problems with the USA, playing the Americans four times and losing all four.
The Hondurans have some real class up front, with Genoa forward David Suazo and the very experienced Carlos Pavon whose record by the end of 2009 stood at an astonishing 57 goals in 96 internationals.
In midfield, captain Amado Guevara will be one of the most experienced players in the tournament, with over 130 caps to his name. He is also a useful goal scorer in support of the strikers. Together with Torino’s Julio Leon and Wilson Palacios of Tottenham Hotspur, Guevara gives Honduras a strong midfield.
In their only previous visit to the World Cup finals in 1982, Honduras surprised by drawing 1-1 with Spain and eventual group winners Northern Ireland before a 1-0 loss to Yugoslavia sent them out of the tournament. Once again, in 2010, they have a defence that is usually miserly and concedes on average just a goal a game.
Chile enjoyed an impressive qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010, finishing second among the 10 South American teams, behind only five-time champions Brazil, ranked second in the world.
During 2009, they played 14 games, won eight of them, lost three and drew three. Those games included an outing against South Africa in Polokwane which Chile convincingly won 2-0 with South African-born winger Mark Gonzalez playing a starring role.
During the World Cup, much will depend on a trio of former Colo-Colo players who have since moved on to top European clubs: Matias Fernandez, now with Sporting Lisbon; Humberto Suazo, now with Real Zaragoza; and Alexis Sanchez, now with Udinese. Fernandez provides quality in the midfield and Suazo and Sanchez the finishing up front.
Chile is a young team with few players having reached 30 years of age. Yet, despite their relative youth, they’re experienced playing away from home, both in South American qualifying and in matches in preparation for the World Cup.
After a strong showing in qualifying and having last made it to the World Cup in 1998, when striker Marcelo Salas led the way, Chile will have high expectations of themselves. They’re a dark horse team that deserves some respect.
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