World Cup Soccer
 
              === Spain must make the most of rare opportunity ===
 
 By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
 
 Philadelphia,  PA (Sports  Network) -  For  countries like  Brazil, Italy  and
 Germany,  success  in  the  World  Cup  is  passed  down  from  generation  to
 generation, almost like a hereditary trait.
 
 The  ability to  perform at  the highest  level on  the world's  biggest stage
 appears  to be  encoded in their DNA, as  evidenced by the fact that the three
 nations have  combined to win  12 of the 18 World Cups on offer, while just two
 of the previous 18 World Cup finals did not include one of those three
 powerhouses.
 
 But  for  a team like  Spain, which  will be appearing  in its first World Cup
 final  on Sunday against the Netherlands, opportunities to win the competition
 don't come along very often.
 
 The  Spanish have  always been a cut below teams like Argentina, Brazil, Italy
 and  Germany in the global pecking order, and they have developed a reputation
 in recent years for coming up short when the stakes are highest.
 
 Spain  has  put together some  pretty good  teams recently, including the 2002
 World  Cup team  that was led by  potent striker Raul and anchored by Fernando
 Hierro.
 
 That  squad was knocked  out in the quarterfinal stage by hosts South Korea in
 controversial  fashion,  as they had  two good goals  ruled out because of poor
 offside  calls to illustrate  the fine line between success and failure at the
 World Cup.
 
 The  2002 edition  represented the best chance that Spain has had at achieving
 World Cup success recently, until now.
 
 Every so often, the stars will align and a new team will emerge as a threat to
 the usual suspects at a World Cup.
 
 France had its most successful period in the late 1990's when Les Bleus rode a
 talented  nucleus  led by Zinedine  Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly and
 Thierry  Henry to  the World Cup title  in 1998, before they also claimed the
 European championship two years later.
 
 Portugal  was  expected to achieve similar  results when they entered the 2002
 World  Cup with players like Luis Figo, Pauleta and Rui Costa. And although it
 was  the most talented Portugal team to come along in over 30 years, they fell
 woefully short and failed to advance past the group stage.
 
 The point is that some  teams take their  big chance, others don't, and now
 Spain will be trying to emulate what the French did 12 years ago.
 
 There  is no doubt  that this team is well-equipped to take home the trophy as
 they were one of the favorites, along with Brazil, to win the competition.
 
 Spain  shed  their  label  as  underachievers  by  winning  the  2008  European
 championship, and now with essentially the same team two years later, can
 establish themselves as a true world power.
 
 The  scary thing for the rest of the world is that only four of the 23 players
 on  Spain's roster are  30 or older, meaning that they should be a threat even
 four years from now when the World Cup will be held in Brazil.
 
 But  so  much can  happen in four  years time, and  opportunities to reach the
 final are so rare.
 
 "We  haven't  achieved  anything  like  this before  but  this  team  deserves
 everything that comes our way," said Spain striker David Villa. "It's not easy
 to  get this  far but  we're hungry  for more  and we  couldn't be  happier at
 reaching the final. That's what we came here for and now we want to go out and
 win it."
 
 If  Spain is  successful in capturing the  title, Villa will be one of the big
 reasons why. He is tied  with Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder for the
 tournament lead with five goals.
 
 Villa  has scored  all but two of his  team's goals en route to the final, and
 his  contribution has been especially important considering the poor form that
 strike partner Fernando Torres has been in.
 
 Torres  was benched  in favor of Pedro  for the 1-0 semifinal win over Germany
 this  past Wednesday,  but this just underlines the incredible depth in a team
 that really has no weakness.
 
 Go  ahead, try  and name the biggest  problem in the Spanish team and it might
 take you a while to find one.
 
 Offensively,  Villa has carried the team but he has gotten strong contributions
 from  midfielders  Xavi, Andres  Iniesta and  Xabi Alonso,  while the team has
 conceded  just two  goals all tournament thanks to an air-tight defense led by
 captain Carles Puyol and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
 
 Spain  entered the  tournament as  the most  complete team  in the  world, and
 outside of a small hiccup at the start of the competition against Switzerland,
 which beat Spain, 1-0, they have done nothing to disprove that notion.
 
 The  Netherlands  will also be  trying to win their  first World Cup on Sunday
 after  they lost  successive finals  in 1974  and 1978,  with easily  the best
 collection of players that Holland has ever produced.
 
 Those  Dutch teams  of the 1970's were  some of the most entertaining teams in
 the  world,  but they know  all too well  how empty a feeling it is when a
 golden generation of players comes up short.
 
 It  is a  feeling that Spanish fans  and players alike hope they never have to
 know.
 
 
 07/09 14:11:45 ET

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