|Profiles - World Cup Teams - Spain|
Whatever problems Spain face in the World Cup finals in June, at least they
should not be weighed down by the burden of expectation this time.
Coach Jose Antonio Camacho should be able to assemble one of the most talented squads on show in South Korea and Japan, drawn largely from the Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna teams that have impressed so much in the Champions League.
But such is Spain's reputation for spectacular failure in the final stages of major competitions that they head into the finals with little or no record to defend and few expecting them to challenge for the title.
The mood in the Spanish camp this time round is one of cautious optimism rather than the customary euphoria as the players bid to finally prove they can translate club form to the highest international stage.
'In Spain, we only remember the national team when the World Cup finals arrive and in that moment everyone wants us to win 5-0,' Camacho said in an interview with Don Balon magazine.
'Everyone talks about winning the World Cup even before the first qualifying game. But how many times have Spain won the World Cup? And yet it seems we have an obligation to win it.'
The answer to that question is 'never' but, as usual they looked good in the qualifying tournament, strolling through to the finals by being far too strong for Austria, Israel, Bosnia and Liechtenstein.
They have now reached the World Cup for the seventh successive time.
Yet in that impressive run, stretching back to Argentina in 1978, they can point to just two appearances in the quarter-finals, in Mexico in 1986 and the United States in 1994.
For their best performance they have to look all the way back to 1950, when they finished fourth in their first appearance in the finals.
Winning the competition is likely to be beyond Spain this time round too but Camacho should at least be able to inspire an improvement on the side's recent record in international tournaments.
Spain were tipped as potential champions for both France '98 and Euro 2000 but each time they lost their opening game and never really recovered.
Camacho certainly looks to have the right mix of youth and experience this time.
Real Madrid, European Cup winners in two of the last four years, will provide the backbone of the team, with Fernando Hierro at centre-back, Ivan Helguera in midfield and Raul adding his quicksilver talents up front.
Creative midfielder Gaizka Mendieta has only featured sporadically for Lazio but remains one of Europe's class performers, while in Deportivo's Diego Tristan, Spain finally look to have a centre-forward to complement Raul.
Camacho can also call upon highly-rated young talents, including the Barcelona trio of Xavi, Gabri and Carles Puyol, who helped Spain to the silver medal in the Sydney Olympics.
They will all almost certainly be in Camacho's final 23, along with Vicente of Valencia, Real Madrid's sensational young keeper Iker Casillas and Real Mallorca's fast maturing forward Alberto Luque.
The task for Camacho, as for all his predecessors, will be to get the most out of the undoubted talent he has at his disposal.
How far he is successful will decide whether Spain finally take their place among the elite of world football - or display once again their uncanny talent for self-destruction once the serious stuff gets under way.