Spain still riding high a year on from World Cup glory

MADRID, (Reuters) – Spain have stuttered in a couple  of friendlies since their first World Cup triumph a year ago but  Vicente del Bosque’s side are cruising through Euro 2012  qualifying and will be firm favourites to retain their title.

Del Bosque

The euphoria left over from the dramatic extra-time victory  over the Netherlands in Johannesburg on July 11, 2010 was  tempered by a 4-1 defeat in Argentina in September and a 4-0  drubbing at the hands of neighbours Portugal two months later.

However, the continental champions have a perfect five wins  out of five in Euro 2012 qualifying and lead their group by six  points from the Czech Republic with three games left as they bid  to become the first country to win consecutive European  Championships with a World Cup in between.

Last month’s 3-0 friendly win in Venezuela was their 39th  victory in 44 matches under Del Bosque, putting the former Real  Madrid player and coach one clear of his immediate predecessor  Luis Aragones to set a national record. “Spanish football is in exceptional shape,” Del Bosque was  quoted as saying in local media on Sunday.

“We can be optimistic and say that this time we are among  the favourites [for Euro 2012].”

At least for the next few years, Del Bosque can rely on a  stable squad built around Barcelona’s European Champions League  winning side. Record scorer David Villa is not yet 30 and remains one of  the most prolific strikers around, playmakers Xavi (31) and  Andres Iniesta (27) are second to none and Real Madrid’s Iker  Casillas (30), the captain, a rock in goal.

Del Bosque is unlikely to make any significant changes  before next year’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine, but Spain’s  victory in last month’s European Under-21 Championship shows  there is plenty of talent coming through if needed.

“The current squad is a stable one and there are not many  positions where we have to think about replacements,” the  60-year-old said.

“There will only be changes when there is a guarantee that  someone coming in can perform better than the player we have  already.

“There won’t be a revolution but instead the normal changes,  a step by step renewal that will be done naturally and at the  right moment.”

In an interview with As sports daily published on Sunday,  Del Bosque singled out new Manchester United keeper David De  Gea, midfielders Thiago Alcantara of Barcelona and Ander Herrera  of Real Zaragoza and Athletic Bilbao forward Iker Muniain as  Under-21 players to watch.

He has already used Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez and  Valencia forward Juan Mata, who travelled to South Africa last  year with the senior squad before helping the Under-21 side to  victory in Denmark.

The down-to-earth Del Bosque, with his balding grey hair and  distinctive bushy moustache, knows his team cannot afford to  live off past achievements and is determined to maintain the  players’ hunger for success.

“There is (a certain euphoria) but at the same time in the  knowledge that football right now is very equal and that games  are decided by small details,” he said.

“We cannot be over-confident. The worst thing an athlete can  do is think he is superior to his rival.

“Having the [World Cup winner’s] star on your shirt is very  nice but it’s also a responsibility and an extra motivation for  your opponents.”

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