- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2014

Only two teams have ever won back-to-back World Cups: Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962.

Spain is trying to prove it has the toughness and the talent to join that elite list, and it showed some resilience Saturday at FedEx Field in a final tuneup before the World Cup.

Spain wasn’t worried as much about the result in what became a 2-0 win over El Salvador. The defending World Cup champions came to D.C. to face the heat and humidity and allow coach Vicente del Bosque a chance to analyze and determine his final 11 starters. What he saw in this friendly gave him a bit more to think about.

On paper Spain has one of the deadliest attacks in the sport, but historically La Furia Roja has struggled to score more than one or two goals a game.

Despite dominating the time of possession in the first half, Spain could not find the back of the net. Cesc Fabregas, who has been mentioned as a potential starter in Brazil, struggled after missing a penalty early on a controversial call against El Salvador goalkeeper Henry Hernandez.

But striker David Villa, who will be playing in his last World Cup, proved to be the spark. After coming in as a substitute at halftime he opened the scoring with a header on a pass from Sergio Ramos in 60th minute. He struck again in the 88th minute, diving on a pass from David Silva and sliding the ball into the bottom left corner of the net.

Spain are world champions,” said El Salvador coach Albert Roca. “It is very difficult to play a possession game with them, they are clearly a superior team.”

For the vast majority of the game Spain looked brilliant, completing 71 percent of its passes and never looking fazed on defense. Spain struggled to score against a Salvadorian team that failed to qualify for Brazil but came up with just enough to win — a storyline familiar to this team.

In 2010 Spain won the trophy, but barely scored enough goals to do it. In the group stage the Spanish lost to Switzerland before beating Honduras 2-0 and Chile 2-1. They moved on from their group scoring only one goal in each contest on their way to hoisting the trophy.

In seven games they scored eight goals and only won one of their games by more than one goal.

The upside of this for the Spaniards is that their defense played extraordinarily well in South Africa, and goalkeeper Iker Casillas returns between the sticks in 2014. They faced some of the most high-powered offenses in the world in 2010 including Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands without allowing a goal.

In qualifying this year Spain allowed only three goals through eight games, proving that it has not lost its defensive magic.

Del Bosque is not blind to his team’s offensive woes, but so far his defense has played well enough to carry the team and his strikers have turned up just in the nick of time.

“We need better continuity and better chances in the attacking third,” the coach said. “But we played well defensively despite not training much together.”

Having players like Villa available to provide a spark off the bench has been critical to Spain’s success throughout the 2014 campaign.

Added del Bosque: “We know that with space Villa is one of the best strikers in the world.”

Despite a tough group stage Spain is still a heavy favorite heading to Brazil. The Spaniards will face the Netherlands, Chile and Australia in the group stage on their way to the round of 16. Their first game will be against the Dutch, who they faced in the World Cup final four years ago in South Africa.

While the Netherlands will undoubtedly be their greatest challenge, the Spaniards cannot expect to cruise over the others in their group.

It will be critical for Spain to stay on top of its group because the second-place team will likely face host nation Brazil in the round of 16.

The final look at the World Cup favorites before they board the plane to South America revealed that they need to learn how to create offense if they expect to repeat as champions. But when it comes to defense and controlling the flow of a game, they are among the best in the world.

“We’re very optimistic ahead of the World Cup,” said del Bosque. “We’re meeting our expectations after training and friendlies. We always want to dictate the pace of the game and find space. If we keep possession of the ball we will be successful.”



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