The Squad: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Santiago Canizares (Valencia), Jose Reina (Liverpool); Michel Salgado, Sergio Ramos (both Real Madrid), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Pablo Ibanez (Atletico Madrid), Juanito (Real Betis), Carlos Marchena (Valencia), Antonio Lopez (Atletico Madrid), Mariano Pernia (Getafe); David Albelda (Valencia), Marcos Senna (Villarreal), Xabi Alonso (Liverpool), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xavi (Barcelona), Joaquin (Real Betis), Luis Garcia (Liverpool); Jose Antonio Reyes (Arsenal), Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid), Raul (Real Madrid), David Villa (Valencia).
How Qualified: 2nd in UEFA Group 7, defeated Slovakia in playoff
World Ranking: 5
Previous Appearances: (11) 1934, 1950, 1962, 1966, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002.
Coach: Luis Aragones
Expected Line-up: Casillas; Pernia, Puyol, Ibanez, Ramos; Joaquin, Alonso, Xavi; Villa, Raul, Torres (4-3-3) - although your guess is as good as mine...
A lot of things can be guaranteed at the World Cup. Holland fans will be applauded for bringing their "carnival atmosphere" to the tournament, England's exit from the tournament will be either the referee or manager's fault, as opposed to the simple fact that the other team were better and an Argentinian will have awful hair. Perhaps the biggest guarantee is that within the first two minutes of Spain's first match, a commentator will use the tag "perennial underachievers" to describe them and he'd be bang on the peseta. Despite having a team that is capable of winning the World Cup, it seems that tournament after tournament the Spaniards manage to find new and exciting ways to crash out, even though they have boasted such tremendous players as Emilio Butragueño, Hierro and Luis Enrique. Spain have not reached the semi-finals of the World Cup since 1950, although some would be right to argue that they would have equaled that run in 2002 - and possibly even reached the final - if it hadn't been for an Egyptian linesman who forgot that the whole ball had to be over the line for it to be a goal-kick. With 2002's injustice against South Korea no doubt fresh in their minds and a squad which is amongst the top five in the tournament, I risk the ridicule of everyone by asking... surely they can't underachieve again, can they?
"Habit is stronger than reason" - George Santayana, Spanish born Philosopher, Poet and Humanist (1863-1952)
I'm positive George Santayana had no desire to enter the world of television punditry but what he said would not be out of place coming from the lips of the most sensible talking ex-player who can't quite handle being a football manager. Simply put, it is conceivable that failure by Spain to reach at least the semi-finals is down to a psychological barrier as opposed to a physical one. The players they have at their disposal play superbly week in, week out for their club sides but seemingly forget how to kick a football during major tournaments. Torres controls like Traore, Albelda passes like Andy Sinton and Carles Puyol transforms into Carlton Palmer. If Spain could have just one good tournament where they give it their best shot and don't have regrets over their overall performance, then there's no doubt that they can become a force within European and World football on the international stage. It is similar to how England cannot win a penalty shoot-out. They haven't done so since, ironically, they faced Spain at Euro 96, showing exactly that sometimes it is a case of a psychological problem within the team. A good start at Germany 2006 is required of Spain in order to give themselves a chance of reaching the semi-finals. If they can believe in themselves early, then they can take that confidence beyond the group stage.
There aren't many squads better than Spain in this year's tournament and I urge you to note that key word. Squad. If there is one cliché you take from this analysis more than any other, it should be that good squads win World Cups, not good teams. It is one of the main reasons why England will not win the World Cup and one of the reasons why Brazil are strong favourites. Ronaldinho needs a rest with fifteen minutes left? Bring on Lyon's midfield maestro Juninho. Whilst the Spaniards don't have the strength, depth and quality of the Brazilian squad, they are amongst the next tier of teams with a strong squad along with the likes of Argentina, Holland and France. They have big match players such as Luis Garcia, Reyes and Andres Iniesta yet none could be considered the first name on Aragones' teamsheet, an indication of the quality. Perhaps one of the major problems is that Raul IS one of those first names on the teamsheet, despite being injured for a large portion of last season and a Villa - no, not Aston nor Ricky - and Torres partnership looking extremely promising. Raul is the golden boy of Spanish football, pelotas de oro if you will, despite losing the magic touch in the past few seasons. If Spain are to do well, Raul will have to recapture past form for the golden boy to shine once again.
Mental barriers. Raul's drop of form for, well, the past four years. Their manager Aragones, a follower of Kabbalah, is seemingly a little bit eccentric... he has a phobia of the colour yellow, so if they play Brazil, they're fucked. All these problems aside, Spain have a strong chance of finally fulfilling their potential. They have the most consistent goalkeeper in the tournament in Iker Casillas, with two excellent back-up keepers, Reina and Canizares. Their back-line displays strength in abundance with Puyol, Marchena and Ibanez, coupled with the finesse of Pernia and Ramos. However, if Spain are to go far in this World Cup, the midfield will be the major influence. They possess the best passer of a football in Liverpool's Xabi Alonso and I say that without a hint of Scouse bias. The man is an absolute genius with the ball at his feet and a target to hit. Players such as Alonso should shine on this grand stage and he will find it hard not to, with the likes of Fabregas, Xavi, Albelda, Luis Garcia and Joaquin - amongst others - to compliment him. A collection of midfielders to even rival Brazil, possibly. As stated before, Raul must recapture the form which gave him his hero status in Spain and will rely on Torres, Reyes and Villa to chip in with the goals.
Santayana also said that "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". How apt. Take notes, Spain. Perhaps Mr. Santayana could do a job for the BBC, after all...