Spain, ranked second in the world and favourites to win the World Cup at 7/2, struggled to overcome Saudi Arabia 3-2 on Saturday afternoon in Innsbruck in their penultimate friendly before the tournament.
They needed a goal in the 92nd minute from Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente to see off the Saudis, ranked 66 in the world, just ahead of Cyprus. Manager Vicente Del Bosque blamed the lack of playing time in the last two weeks for his side’s tardiness.
“We’re a little behind because of the late finish to the season,” he said. Spain’s other goals came from new Barcelona signing David Villa and Madrid’s Xavi Alonso.
Although Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas spent the game on the bench, plenty of Spain’s key players were on the field for at least part for the game.
Del Bosque pointed to the return of Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta, out for two months with injury, as the most satisfying aspect of the game.
Although it is foolish to read too much into friendlies, students of Spain’s historical form will take heart from the side’s willingness to battle to the end and not allow their game to be crippled by self-doubt. Until their victory at the 2008 European Championships, many people felt Spain’s inability to keep things together under the pressure of a major tournament was the main reason it took them so long to win one, and are constantly on the alert for signs of their achilles heel returning.
Spain’s first game in Group H is against Switzerland on June 16.
At 7/2, can anyone stop Spain’s extraordinary collection of talent from winning the tournament?