Spain still soaring a year since World Cup win

MADRID - 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.

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.

EMERGING TALENT

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 goalkeeper 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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