WORLD CUP: Spain hoping kids are alright

Madrid, May 12:

It is one of the mysteries of international football that Spain have never reached a World Cup semi-final despite having arguably Europe’s strongest domestic league and a conveyor belt of talent.

The perennial dark horses, the Spaniards have struggled to fulfil their potential at a series of major international championships where they had set out with high hopes.

But despite a long-record of under-achievement the Spanish are in a confident frame of mind as they prepare for Germany and what should be a straightforward Group H featuring Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

“This is the most gifted group I have seen in my nine years with the national side,” says Spanish striker Raul, and there is more than a hint of substance to his claim. Although they made hard work of booking their place in the finals, they qualified via a play-off after finishing runners-up to Serbia and Montenegro. Luis Aragones’ squad has quality running through it.

Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres, 22, will lead the line. Liverpool’s midfield general Xabi Alonso will be 24, while Valencia’s highly rated winger Vicente will turn 25 during the tournament.

In central midfield Aragones can turn to the burgeoning Arsenal playmaker Cesc Fabregas to help make things happen, still only 19, Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas is one of the squad’s senior citizens at 25 while his teammate the central defender Sergio Ramos will be just 20 and Arsenal striker Jose Antonio Reyes 22.

Throw in the experience of old hands like Raul and Fernando Morientes, and Spain’s optimism looks well-founded.

It is also worth noting that the Spaniards were robbed of a place in the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup when they had what would have been a match-winning goal wrongly disallowed in their quarter-final against South Korea.