The Iberian Peninsula is on the radars of soccer fans across the world.
Today both Iberian teams—Spain and Portugal—face tests that will attempt to show the world exactly what they’re bringing to the table for the 2010 Cup.
Both teams come from extreme poles of the soccer universe with much to prove.
Spain comes in, along with Brazil, as the favorite to win the Cup. The always under-performing ‘Furia Roja’ comes with some of the world’s most elite players and has mastered possession play with a Hispanic spark that is the envy of the world.
While many believed Spain didn’t have the strength to win in world play, they were able to prove otherwise by winning the 2008 Eurocup.
Portugal, on the other hand, was one of the last teams to qualify for the cup despite having one of the world’s premier players in Cristiano Ronaldo.
Today as they face Poland and Mozambique respectfully they’ll try and prove they are serious contenders for football’s greatest prize.
Cristiano Ronaldo has slowly become the Lebron James of international soccer.
He may be one of the best players not just today but in the history of the game, but he is stuck in a team with a surprisingly weak supporting cast.
Ronaldo’s teammates also hail from top premier leagues; however, the team continuously lacks the chemistry and depth that other European powers possess.
Despite having the world’s most expensive striker, Portugal has had immense trouble finding the net. They come off a 0-0 tie against a Cape Verde team that doesn’t crack the top 100 in rankings.
The Portuguese then were able to beat fellow World Cup participants Cameroon 3-1.
The question today against Mozambique, ranked 85th in the world, is which versions of the team will show up.
The Portuguese can’t afford to play like they did against Cape Verde. This Mozambique game is the team’s last chance to send a message to their fellow ‘Group of Death’ teams that this is no longer the under-performing squad that stuttered through qualifying.
The Spain Illusion
Spain comes into the cup stacked with players from two of the best teams in the world: Barcelona and Real Madrid.
With much of the Barcelona midfield and the luxury of regularity in roster the Spanish squad has mastered their style of possession play that has dominated opponents for the past four years.
The Spanish tied the record for 15 straight wins and 35 straight undefeated matches before falling to the US in the Confederations Cup of 2009.
The Spanish, however, enter the cup under the embarrassing record of never having gone beyond the quarterfinals in the World Cup despite having one of the best leagues in the world in their backyard.
If Spain is ever to win it, this is their year.
However, injuries have begun to plague the team. Striker Fernando Torres has hardly played this year. The same is true of midfielder Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
Against Poland, ranked 58th in the world is Spain’s chance to get rid of the taint of a disappointing set of friendlies leading to the Cup in which they barely scraped by South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Poland has already made trouble for other World Cup teams, forcing Serbia into an underwhelming 0-0 tie. They won’t be easy opponents for the Spaniards.
World Cup Aspirations
Both teams come not only from completely different qualifying experiences but they will also face infinitely different group stages.
Spain got a relatively easy draw in Group H against Chile, Switzerland, and Honduras.
Barring any surprising upsets during the group stage Chile and Spain should be clear front runners to move on to the Round of 16.
Portugal on the other hand is placed in what is being called, perhaps undeservedly, the Group of Death with Brazil, Ivory Coast, and North Korea.
The group pits three premier teams trying to get two qualifying spots with North Korea being expected to be the sour team that with one surprising upset or draw could ruin the chances for any of the other three teams.
Even with Didier Drogba, Ivory Coast’s top striker, possibly out for the Cup few are willing to give Portugal the benefit of the doubt to wrestle the second spot from the African team.
The last two friendlies before the cup begins on Friday will not only be necessary to build both team’s self esteem but also give a sneak peak to their opponents as to what exactly they are going to bring.
Will both teams continue to perpetually underperform, or is this when the tide finally turns towards the Iberian Peninsula?