Deserved favourites in the outright market following their scintillating
triumph at Euro 2008, Spain won’t be overjoyed by a tricky looking Group H and
are also set to face one of the big boys in round two.
Vicente el Bosque’s men produced some of the best football seen on the
international stage in a long time 18 months ago, certainly from a European
team, when sweeping all before them in Austria-Switzerland and Spain are quite
rightly considered the team to beat in South Africa.
Spain’s mammoth 35 game unbeaten run, which included their European Championship
triumph, came to a shock end when defeated by a spirited USA at the
Confederations Cup in the summer but they got back on track to end a wonderful
qualifying campaign with a perfect record and their pool of talent is currently
the envy of every other nation.
In breezing past Bosnia, Belgium and Turkey, conceding just five goals along the
way, Spain confirmed themselves as the leading side in Europe but have not been
to a World Cup semi final since 1950 and look odds on, providing they progress
from Group H, to face a very tough early examination of their credentials.
Brazil, Ivory Coast or Portugal surely await in round two and, while Spain would
probably be favourites against any of that trio, things certainly could have
been an awful lot easier.
Spain have too much quality to mention, it is impossible to pinpoint any hint of
a weakness, but the front pairing of David Villa and Fernando Torres deserve
special praise. The duo lit up Euro 2008 but do find things understandably
straightforward feeding off the likes of the wonderful midfield axis of Xavi and
Andreas Iniesta and, if they produce their best, then it is difficult to see who
can stop Spain.
With the emergence of Barcelona’s Gerard Pique to play alongside Carlos Puyol in
the heart of defence Spain have, if anything, improved since their famous
triumph of two years ago and, with Iker Casillas still one of the best
goalkeepers around, it is going to take something pretty special to penetrate
Spain have plenty going for them, including a top manager, and even odds of 1/14
with Paddy Power about them progressing probably underestimates their chances.
UPDATE: Three of Spain's star players should be fit for the World Cup and have been included in the squad. They are Andreas Iniesta, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas.
The South American side continue to be mentioned as possible dark horses for top
honours in South Africa but they simply don’t do it for me and I’ll be happy to
take on Chile.
Second only to Brazil in qualifying, their supporters have plenty of evidence to
make a case for their chances but Marcelo Bielsa’s side haven’t been together
long and I much prefer the look of Group H rivals Switzerland.
Chile are a best-priced 4/6 with Paddy Power to reach the last 16 but even with
hotshot striker Humberto Suazo to call upon, he notched 10 goals to lead the
charts in South America, I remain unconvinced. The Monterrey man is a talent, no
doubt, but he’ll face two robust defences in Group H and I think Chile could
struggle for goals.
Captained by Real Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, Chile must get off to a
good start versus Honduras in Nelspruit with tougher tasks ahead and their clash
with the Swiss on June 21 looks crucial.
In a tournament full of untapped young talent Chile possess plenty, I like the
look of Reggina midfielder Carlos Carmona, but they do lack experience and
plenty of responsibility will rest upon the shoulders of Suazo. He could, of
course, deliver but there are seemingly too many question marks and Chile appear
for an early exit if the level of expectation overwhelms them.
Chile have not won a single match at the World Cup finals since 1962, when
finishing third on home soil, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise were that
run to continue.
German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld certainly wont possess the most talented squad on
display in South Africa but Switzerland are extremely tough to beat and they are
tipped to join Spain in the last 16.
The 13/8 available with VC Bet about the Swiss reaching the knockout stages
simply looks too good to turn down and there is no doubt they are an emerging
nation. Unlucky losers on penalties versus Ukraine four years ago, a place in
the second round certainly must be the target once again and I think they’ll get
Just one defeat in qualifying saw Switzerland reach South Africa with relative
ease and while they still rely on the likes of Alexander Frei and Hakan Yakin
there is some young promise there too.
Udinese midfielder Gokhan Inler, linked on numerous occasions with a move to
Arsenal, is one to keep an eye on and he has blossomed under veteran coach
Hitzfeld as has Tranquillo Barnetta. Big things are expected of the Bayer
Leverkusen man and this could well be his time to shine on the biggest stage of
The duo of Philip Senderos and Patrick Muller may not be to everybody’s liking
in defence but they perform with great effectiveness for their country and the
Swiss must be respected. This is a unit that has been progressing nicely in
recent years and the whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts.
I had pretty high hopes that Honduras could ruffle a few feathers in South
Africa following a decent qualifying campaign which saw them edge out Costa Rica
but this is a tough group from which to progress and they look up against it.
A decent win in the preliminaries over Mexico hinted at just what Reinaldo
Rueda’s team were capable of and they are led by the evergreen Carlos Pavon in
attack. The 36-year-old striker is approaching the 100 cap mark but Honduras’
hopes rest with the younger generation and the future is bright.
Following his big money move from Wigan to Tottenham, Wilson Palacios has
impressed everybody in the Premier League and his former club teammate Maynor
Figueroa is also a talent.
Inter Milan’s David Suazo is another set for big things but Honduras still rely
on a number of home based players, particularly in defence, and they look
vulnerable to their more illustrious Group H opponents. Honduras are 11/2 to
make the second round with Sky Bet but that makes no appeal and their matches
could feature plenty of goals.