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World Cup 2002 - Expectations

Spain. The home of bullfighting, paella, sunny beaches and some say the best football in the world. At least at club level, where the Spanish teams are currently dominating Europe. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Deportivo La Coruña, Valencia and even lowly Alavés have all been successful recently, and the country is riding high at the top of the rankings.

So why then do their national team disappoint us every time there is a major tournament, be it World Cup or European championships? Every two years they start a new competition as one of the top favourites, and every time they qualify for the finals in brilliant style. And then on to the last stage and nothing, not a salchicha, knocked out of the competition in the early stages by Bhutan or Upper Caledonia or some other small nation, and back to the drawing board once again.

Our youth plans are amongst the best in the world, youngsters being nurtured almost from their cots by the big clubs, and the under-whatever-age-you-want Spanish sides regularly win their respective competitions. But when they get to the grown up level it all falls apart.

Self appointed critics (some 40 million or so) will tell you what is wrong. There are too many foreigners in the local game, the season is too long and players are tired and worn out when they reach the summer tournaments, the pressure is too much and their nerves fail, or just we are not good enough.

All of these may be true, but the same could be said for Germany, Italy, France and others, and they are always there at the end. One just has to go on hoping that this time will be different, and Camacho's boys will be there in Yokohama on the last day, holding up the cup as the next champions of the world. It may be a dream, but this time it could be different.

Camacho has probably got one of the best squads of all time, a mixture of experience and youth that has got them through to the finals once again without too many problems, albeit against easier opposition than others have had.

In Raúl we have one of the best players in the world at the moment, a man who at the ripe young age of 24 has already scored 25 goals for his country. Mendieta was voted the best midfielder in Europe last season, Cañizares is rated as one of the top keepers in Europe and Diego Tristán and Puyol are two rising stars who are creating shock waves this year. Add to that the experience of Hierro, a defender who is still Spain's all time top scorer, Helguera, Valerón, Baraja, Luis Enrique, Morientes and maybe even Guardiola if he makes the squad, we have a side who can beat anyone on their day.

The question is whether they have that extra bit of resolve to still be there at the end. A nation's pride depends on it.