This could be the single most important pre-World Cup statement made so far. Fernando Torres, the goal-getter who will lead Spain’s campaign, said today: “God willing, I'll be 100 percent for the first game of the World Cup, for sure.”
This comes, of course, after the Liverpool striker was rushed off for an operation on his right knee in April. The average Anfield fan may not appreciate it, but Torres—the Reds’ most valuable player in a generally awful season—looks like he’ll be ready for Spain’s opening game against Switzerland on June 16 in an apparently easy Group H, which also includes Honduras and Chile.
Torres needed two operations on his knees last season, which is never good news for a 26-year-old with such lovely hair. But Vicente del Bosque will be breathing a short-term sigh of relief. A fit Torres, playing next to David Villa (fresh from his record-breaking move to Barcelona) may just wrap up this World Cup. Torres has scored 56 goals in just 79 games for Liverpool, bettering his record at Atletico Madrid, where he scored 82 in 214 before his record £20m move to England in 2007.
Torres, who insists he will stay at Liverpool next season, said: "I will do a few more days of specific work. I’m happy with my progress. Since January I've had two operations, and that isn't easy. Everything went very well with the first, and in the second the objective was to be ready between six and seven weeks, and I'm at the start of the sixth.”
As for the speculation over his Anfield future, he says: "I want to think about Spain, about winning the World Cup. Since I've been injured, the season has been over for me. I've started working morning and evening to be able to be here, thinking only of getting there.
"It's been a very difficult season. When you start a campaign you hope you will be able to fulfil your dreams, win titles—but it has been just the opposite.
"But there is always a tomorrow in football and this summer, the World Cup. I've put aside the club, the bad season, and I want to finish a difficult season in the best way possible way by making history with my country."
Torres is unlikely to feature in Spain’s three pre-tournament friendlies against Saudi Arabia and North Korea at altitude in Austria, then Poland in Murcia.
But come Spain’s big kick off at Durban’s magnificent Moses Mabhida Stadium, he’ll be one of the favourites for the World Cup’s golden boot. He grins: "Pressure? No, but I know that, along with Villa, I'm lucky enough to be one of the strikers in a team that are among the favourites, and that brings certain privileges."
The La Roja, who are the reigning European champions after their 2008 triumph, must face the runners-up from Group F at Ellis Park on June 28. That could mean Brazil, Portugal or Ivory Coast in the first knock-out round as they bid to end their World Cup jinx.
Backing up his man, Torres’s agent Jose Antonio Peto told Spain’s Punto Radio: "For the moment I can assure fans that Fernando will continue at Liverpool next season.
"Everything is down to Liverpool's attitude, but for the time being Fernando is happy at the club and has a good contract. Liverpool have not spoken to us about his future, so he is just concentrating on playing at the World Cup."
Neal Collins (nealcol on twitter) is in South Africa to promote his first novel, A GAME APART, dubbed "the book you must read before the World Cup". For more details see www.nealcollins.co.uk. See his videos of the World Cup bases here.