Xavi: Elephants are dark horses for 2010

BARCELONA - Spain have a very good chance of winning their first World Cup in South Africa next year but it might just be England's turn and Ivory Coast are potential dark horses, midfielder Xavi said.

European champions Spain breezed through qualifying for the 2010 finals with eight wins out of eight and have lost only once in 40 matches since December 2006. That sole loss was a 2-0 defeat by the U.S. at the Confederations Cup in June.

"We have a superb generation of players, we have already qualified for South Africa and also have the experience of playing there," Xavi, voted player of the tournament at Euro 2008, said in an interview with Reuters.

"We have become a winning team that is very competitive at the world level and we have a great chance and that fills us with excitement."

Under their Italian coach Fabio Capello, England appeared to have found a new swagger and a solid foundation for possible success, Xavi said, adding that Brazil, Italy and Germany would also be among Spain's main rivals.

He praised the "individual quality" of England players like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, who he said was on particularly good form, and said a defence including captain John Terry and Rio Ferdinand would be hard to penetrate.

"England were the big absence from Euro 2008 and I expect they are itching to show they can win the World Cup," said the 29-year-old Barcelona player.

"And we might see a surprise this time from an African country like Ivory Coast," he added. "They look very strong to me right now."