IF SPAIN manage to finally overcome their World Cup jinx and triumph in South Africa, then they will become the smallest team to win the world crown. In the 1990s, Spain manager Javier Clemente seemed obsessed with building a physically strong Seleccion built around big men like Fer nando Hierro, Miguel Angel Nadal, Julio Salinas and Fernando Hierro. This heavyweight team won nothing and impressed nobody.
The team built by Luis Aragones from 2004 to 2008 changed the emphasis to versatile ball-players who can dominate possession and create countless chances with their slick, patient passing game.
“Every country must play to its strengths,” he said in 2005, “and our strength lies in our skilful little midfielders.”
This approach won admiration at the 2006 World Cup, when La Roja swept through the first round. In the round of 16, however, they were unceremoniously pushed aside by a physically imposing French side.
But two years later, Aragones’s “Diddy Men” triumphed at Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva weaving pretty patterns – and with David Villa and Fernando Torres (left) firing the bullets.
Aragones left in a strop for Fenerbahce, annoyed at not being offered a new contract. Vicente del Bosque has wisely stuck by the little men and was rewarded with a perfect qualifying campaign, the first time a European team has won all of their matches in a six-team group.
Del Bosque has beefed up his defence with the towering Gerard Pique, but “Diddy Men” like Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol are still the key elements at the back, whilst the diminutive Xavi continues to be the midfield fulcrum.
The Star: David Villa, 27, is one of Planet Football’s sharpest strikers. Small, fast and imaginative, always trying to defy the opposition’s offside trap, he is capable of pulling apart even the most solid defence. He scored three goals at the 2006 World Cup and four at Euro 2008, becoming tour nament top scorer, though he missed the final with a pulled muscle.