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'Barcelona's Champions League loss a big warning for us'

GROUNDED: The Spanish coach is wary of football's unpredictability

Probably for the first time in the history of the World Cup, Spain are going to South Africa as overwhelming favourites. Your comments?

People have got every right to think so, but I am not going to buy that. The World Cup is not a tournament - or for that matter, any tournament - that can be won on paper. You have to do it on the field. The beauty of this game is in its unpredictability. So, there can never be any favourites.

But Spain have won Euro 2008 and did not lose many in the following two years, except, perhaps, the defeat against the USA in the Confederations Cup, which broke a 35-match unbroken stint. . .

Yes, that was a big lesson for all of us. And that again proves what I just said - that there can't be any favourites in tournaments such as the World Cup. We were cruising along but just one bad day in the office caused our ouster (from the Confederations Cup). In Euro, Spain had lost a few games, yet came out as champions. But in the World Cup, one loss and you are thrown out of the pool. There is no place for complacency. You have to be on your toes, always.

Spanish fans, however, won't be happy without at least reaching the finals. . .

That's what they are thinking. We have to be realistic and
think only about our immediate goals. There's no denying the fact that Spain have been playing well and it's the players who have played really well to earn this distinction. But football is a game where what you do today matters the most, the past is just a reference.

Do you think injuries to three of your key players - Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas - have made your team weaker than what was thought a month ago?

If we did not get these three players in our squad, it could have been interpreted as so. But all of them are with us. Fernando is trying his best to get back into rhythm and doctors have said he would regain his form on or before our first match. Andres is already back to practice while Cesc, too, will definitely be in a position to claim his place in the first XI before our World Cup opener. So, that's not correct.

Spain have enthralled the world by their beautiful football too. Will they be playing the same brand of attacking football in the World Cup?

We will be playing accordingly, but more or less, the pattern of play will not change. Actually, if you look at our side, there will be players from four Spanish clubs - Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Villarreal - and two English clubs, Liverpool and Arsenal. The model is basically the same everywhere. In Spain, we have been backed by a great system that regularly supplies us quality junior footballers.

If Torres is not fit for the first game, will you revert to 4-2-3-1 or continue with 4-4-2 ?

We are hoping to get all our footballers available for the opener. In a big tournament like the World Cup, the opening match is very important.

Spain have been eternal underachievers in terms of World Cup success. Do you think that will change this time?

See, there might have been some problems earlier, but I would definitely like to see a change this time. This is a wonderful bunch, extremely talented and highly focused on their job. They are all young, so there are always possibilities to improve.

Spain and Barcelona seem to follow the same philosophy - playing freeflowing football. But, the recent Champions League semifinal showed that Barcelona could be suffocated. Can the same happen to Spain also?

Well, all I can say is that Barcelona's inability to reach the Champions League final was a warning for all of us. They were technically far superior, played a better brand of soccer, yet were not able to reach the final. We should take a lesson from that loss and be prepared to face the same in the World Cup where teams would be more determined not to lose a match.

There's no doubt that Spain have been fortunate enough to get an easy group. But in the second round, the Group G runners-up would be waiting for you, and that could be either Portugal or worse, Brazil. Have you thought about it?

First of all, a group with Chile and Switzerland can never be easy. Honduras are there, too. The most important thing is, you have to be ready to face any kind of challenge from any side to do well in the World Cup. PMG

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