Spain

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODPASTIMES -

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.

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