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IAN DARKE, one of Britain’s best-known TV sports commentators, is in South Africa to cover his FIFTH World Cup. In this exclusive article for SUR in English, he runs the rule over the Spanish and English teams...
15.06.10 - 13:34 -

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Spain to reign again?
Pedro Rodríguez and Fernando Torres celebrate after yet another goal in the pre-World Cup friendly in Murcia.
Just imagine the scenes in bars around the Costa del Sol if England play Spain in the World Cup Final next month. Should such a dream scenario become reality, England’s chances would be considerably slimmer than they were when the Armada was sunk in 1588.
Spain have never won the World Cup - but they have never had a team as good as the current one.They oozed class winning the European Championships two years ago and could subject the opposition to death by a thousand passes. When Spain beat France recently, Thierry Henry complained: “We just could not get the ball off them”.
Xavi , the midfield player who conducts the Spanish orchestra, is so good that his Barcelona team-mates clap if anyone manages to dispossess him in training. Alongside him he has the pass master Xabi Alonso and Andres Iniesta, described by England’s Wayne Rooney as “the best player in the world”.
Arsenal’s brilliant captain Cesc Fabregas often cannot get in this talented team. And the strike partnership of David Villa and Fernando Torres is one of the most potent in world football. Add a top keeper in Iker Casillas and a defence marshalled superbly by Carlos Puyol, and you have a team likely to outclass most opponents.
The only clouds on Spain’s horizon are slight injury concerns over Torres, Iniesta and Fabregas....and their own history of failure on the biggest stage of all. There are many more question marks surrounding Fabio Capello’s England.
Nobody seems sure who is the best keeper and the defence has sometimes looked like a registered charity. Now Rio Ferdinand is out, John Terry is less sure than he was four years ago in Germany, Ledley King is nursing an injury and new-arrival Michael Dawson is unproven at international level. I think the top teams may well exploit this weakness.
Against that, England were top scorers in the whole of Europe in qualification and have a genuine match-winner in Wayne Rooney. If he is in the mood, all things are possible. But it will need other key players like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole to improve on their laboured efforts in the last World Cup.
No nonsense coach Capello has called for England to play the fast high-tempo game that they do in the Premier League...and this time the cool conditions of a South African winter will allow that.
Predictions? England could go as far as the semi-finals, but Spain can beat Brazil in a classic final. If that happens, don’t plan on any sleep for a week around here.

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