|Breaking down Group H|
|By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor|
|Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - |
Spain captured the Euro 2008 title to end a 44-year drought in major competitions, and enters the 2010 World Cup as one of the favorites alongside Brazil.
Spain's starting 11 is easily the best in the World Cup. Yes, better than the five-time champion Brazilians.
Top-to-bottom, Spain has no weaknesses. Its entire roster is composed of star players. Fernando Torres and David Villa form the best attacking combo in the world. Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Xavi are among the world-class midfielders at coach Vicente del Bosque's disposal. Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos anchor the defense.
Heck, even in goal, Victor Valdes has never been used by Spain. He stars for Barcelona, in case you didn't know, but is third-string behind Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina.
Spain is one of the few countries with enough talent on the bench to field a separate team capable of competing in the tournament.
What Spain, which also won Euro 1964, has never done is succeed at the World Cup.
Spain's best finish was in 1950 in Brazil, when it finished fourth. Spain has not even advanced to the semifinals since.
Since 1950, Brazil has won the World Cup five times and finished second once. Germany has made seven finals and won three titles. Argentina and Italy each have two titles. England and France are the other winners since then.
Spain is in the best position in its history to finally lift the trophy, and leave the Netherlands as the most notable country without a title.
Spain should win Group H, which includes Chile, Honduras and Switzerland. In the knockout round, though, they have disappointed before.
For the last 60 years in the World Cup, to be exact.
Game of the Group: Chile vs. Switzerland (June 21)
Either Chile or Switzerland is likely to join Spain in the knockout stage, so a win in the second match of the group stage, when these countries with vastly contrasting styles collide, may determine their fate.
Chile is an attack-oriented team, and coach Marcelo Bielsa's side proved it in South American qualifying with 32 goals. Only Brazil scored more with 33.
Switzerland switched coaches since the last World Cup, with Ottmar Hitzfeld in charge in 2010, but remains a defense-first team.
The Swiss were eliminated from the 2006 World Cup without allowing a goal (it lost in the knockout stage to the Ukraine on penalties after a 0-0 draw), and will be searching for more success under Hitzfeld.
Chile is back in the World Cup for the first time since 1998 and on the heels of a second-place finish in qualifying behind Brazil, could be poised to make a run in South Africa.
Player to Watch: Fernando Torres (Spain)
One of the world's most lethal strikers, Torres really is a threat every time he touches the ball. However, Torres had a knee operation in April that makes him questionable for Spain's group-stage matches.
Even if Torres returns for group play, it's unclear how effective he'll be on the field after a long layoff. The 26-year-old has 23 goals in 72 matches for Spain, and averages just under a goal per game for Liverpool.
Spain won't need Torres' services to survive group play, but manager Vicente del Bosque needs a healthy Torres to lead his club to a second consecutive major title. Torres scored the game-winner against Germany in the 2008 Euro final, and has scored big goals for club and country for years.
Despite its wealth of talent, Spain needs Torres to win its first World Cup.
Breakout Player: Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
Sanchez broke into the national team when he was 17, and enters the World Cup at 21 having already played 28 times for Chile. Nicknamed "El Nino Maravilla" or "Wonder Boy," the 5-foot-7 forward is creative and great with the ball.
He's already scored 11 times for Chile, with three of those goals coming just ahead of the World Cup in warm-up games against Zambia and Israel. Sanchez is sure to start for coach Marcelo Bielsa in South Africa, and could easily wind up as the tournament's best young player.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has reportedly been interested in the diminutive Chilean for a few years, and would like to sign him before the World Cup. If Sanchez doesn't leave Udinese before the World Cup, he could be on every big club's radar after it.
Group Winner: Spain
Spain won all three games in the group stage four years ago and probably wins all of its matches in the opening round this year as well. Eventual runner-up France knocked out Spain four years ago, but Chile, Honduras and Switzerland aren't capable of stopping this team from another knockout appearance.
Second Place: Chile
Chile was impressive in South American qualifying, finishing one point behind Brazil in the final standings. Whether Chile's aggressive style translates in South Africa is still an unknown, but this team is capable of another showing like in 1962, when it finished third as hosts.