Friday, March 26, 2010

Playing Spanish Mind Games

This must be the week for psychological warfare.

A day ago, Franz Beckenbauer of Germany was talking up Wayne Rooney and England and talking down Germany ...

And now Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque is appalled at the expectations for his team -- co-favored, with Brazil, to win South Africa 2010 -- and out to remind everyone that winning a World Cup is a difficult business.

Sounds like good planning by Del Bosque.

Though he has a tough row to hoe.

Spain has been dominating European soccer for going on four years now. It has lost exactly one international match (to the U.S. in the Confederations Cup last June) since November of 2006. Before that shocking upset, Spain had set a record with 15 consecutive international victories and tied Brazil's record with a streak of 35 consecutive matches without defeat. Spain has reeled off another nine victories since losing to the U.S., giving it one defeat in its last 45 internationals.

Its record in those 45: 41-1-3. And one of the three ties went to a shootout won by Spain (over Italy, in Euro 2008).


Spain won the 2008 Euro Cup without defeat and won every match in qualifying for South Africa.

Del Bosque concedes Spain might have some expectations placed on it. "We can hardly say it doesn't make sense that we're singled out, given we're European champions and have won so many games in a row," he said.

But that doesn't mean he has to like it, and it doesn't mean that he can't get to work trying to manage expectations. Spain has never won a World Cup, and that first one is hard. Ask the Netherlands. Or Portugal, or any of the other serious soccer countries that are not among the seven nations that have won a World Cup.

Del Bosque doesn't like the vibe in his home country.
"Everybody in Spain thinks that anything except winning the World Cup is a failure," he said. "I think that's nonsense and an extremism but, in the times we live in, it seems that extremism sells."

To be sure, when you have a roster that includes Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso ... you are in pretty good shape.

He could also have mentioned that Spain, historically, has been considered one of the great underachievers of the World Cup. Lots of good teams, well-regarded ... and then they failed miserably. A rep they carried until Euro 2008, frankly.

Del Bosque's complaints about expectations probably will fall on deaf ears. But you have to give him some credit for reminding la puebla that this is not a done deal. Spain does have to play the games.
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