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Spain need to beat bouts of self-doubt as well as Chile to progress

It seems ridiculous to consider that Spain may be flying home from the World Cup this weekend. Few would have dared consider the European champions leaving the tournament so early before the World Cup began.

Sergio Ramos in flight

Spain's World Cup participation is currently up in the air

Heading into this World Cup, Many had tipped Spain to add a world title to the European one they so magnificently won in Switzerland and Austria two years ago. But if their ebbing self-confidence, dogged as it is by the ghosts of past failures, combine with results beyond their control, the Spanish could be eliminated by the end of play on Friday night.

Spain need to beat Chile to go through as Group H winners, or draw - if Switzerland lose or draw - to progress as runners-up. Should the Spanish get beaten by Chile, however, with Switzerland scoring at least a point against Honduras, then Spain could be on their way home.

Their progress to the next round is far from assured and with Chile unlikely to ease up on the gas, Spain will need their big game players like Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xavi Hernandez to be on song.

Herein lies Spain's problem.

This is a team built to attack and to rip teams to shreds. From the back to the front, Spain have players who should be pushing teams to their own goal line while peppering nervous goalkeepers shots from all over the park.

Few teams have defenders like Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and David Capdevila, who have serious skill on the ball and can join the attack to threaten the goal. Even without the injury-nagged Andres Iniesta pulling the strings, Spain have a wealth of creative players in midfield. Xavi, Jesus Navas and David Silva have been turning opposing midfields inside-out - and, amazingly, keeping the likes of Cesc Fabregas out of the first team. Up front, few sides can count on a duo as deadly on their day as David Villa and Fernando Torres.

Spanish artists too fearful to win

And yet Spain have just two goals to their name so far in the tournament - both from Villa, and both against Honduras. Both goals had more than a little slice of luck about them and on balance, Spain has wasted many more chances than not in the tournament.

Spain get themselves in scoring positions as often as other teams get throw-ins. The problem at this World Cup is that no-one has taken the opportunities when presented with them. Spain are playing like a team afraid to lose.

David Villa

Villa may have scored Spain's two goals but he could have had a more had he been more composed

Their passing game is a joy to watch - when it results in an incisive through ball or powerful shot. It becomes sleep-inducing when it goes from one side of the penalty area to the other for over ten minutes with no-one willing to have a punt at goal. This is a team in stark contrast to the one which blew the rest of Europe away in 2008.

Against both Honduras and Switzerland the Furia Roja often reverted to the frustrating Spain of old - with possession in the final third coming not to the climax of a lashing shot on goal, but remaining mired in a series of lame lay-offs by players who look positively allergic to putting an opposing keeper to the test. (This means you, especially, Xavi.)

Maybe the expectation which comes with being European champions is too heavy for them to bear. No-one has been slated for saying Spain could win the cup, such is the belief that this is a team capable of doing so. Maybe these people are crazy - given the weight of historical precedence of Spain choking at World Cups. This is by far their best-ever chance. More mediocre Spanish squads have arrived with huge expectations and have wilted. This team actually has the tools to win - but refuses to believe it.

Group H knife-edge has Spain sweating

Spain need to start believing - and fast. Chile are no slouches. The South American qualifying runners-up have looked impressive so far and have yet to drop a point. The South Americans were not much fancied coming into the finals but few will be discounting them now. Whether they progress from Group H in the top spot remains to be seen, but they currently sit at the summit above Spain with six points to Spain's three.

Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes, right, celebrates with teammate Switzerland's Tranquillo Barnetta, left, after scoring the opening goal during the World Cup group H soccer match between Spain and Switzerland at the stadium in Durban, South Africa, Wednesday, June 16, 2010.

Few should underestimate the Swiss after they beat Spain

Switzerland, on three points in third place due to inferior goal difference to Spain, need to beat Honduras and hope that Spain draw or lose to Chile to make the last 16. Ottmar Hitzfeld's team pulled off one of the surprises of the tournament by beating Spain in the opening group game and they were unlucky to lose 1-0 to Chile in their second.

Honduras, for their part, have yet to score a goal at this World Cup but have not been blown off the park either. They are an offensively-minded team and Switzerland will have to be vigilant in defense - and get themselves a goal at the other end to make it to the next round.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann

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