- Associated Press - Sunday, June 22, 2014

CURITIBA, Brazil (AP) - Spain doesn’t expect its poor showing at the World Cup to take the fear out of opponents. That includes Australia, its opponent in its last Group B match.

Spain’s early exit from Brazil will likely drop it from the top spot in the FIFA rankings after it was ousted from the World Cup earlier than any previous defending champion.

Monday’s match at the Arena da Baixada could be the start of Spain’s rebuilding process, or the extension of a decline that began with a 5-1 loss to the Netherlands and was followed by a 2-0 loss to Chile.

“I don’t know if opponents have the same respect for us or not,” Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina said on Sunday. “But Spain will always be respected for its philosophy of play. We’ve earned it. “

Spain had been almost untouchable in world football since its Euro 2008 triumph in Vienna, where the Iberian country ended a 44-year period without a major trophy marked by a history of underachievement.

It went on to win the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before defending its European Championship in emphatic fashion with a 4-0 victory over Italy in the final.

The Spanish squad arrived in South America seemingly ready to continue the roll, with its Real Madrid players having won the Champions League at the expense of its Atletico Madrid, which at least lifted the domestic title.

“We’re not going to change the opinion of people. But we want to end the tournament with dignity,” Reina said. “The only clear thing is that we can’t advance.”

Coach Vicente del Bosque said Xavi Hernandez was unavailable because of a leg injury, while Andres Iniesta will earn his 100th cap for Spain and Reina will make his World Cup debut.

Backups including defenders Raul Albiol and Juanfran Torres, plus forwards David Villa and Juan Mata, could also feature against Australia, the lowest-ranked team at the tournament. Villa has already said he would retire from international football following the tournament, while the international futures of Xavi and Xabi Alonso remain shrouded in mystery.

Spain’s return to No. 1 could take some time, with Del Bosque’s future also up in the air.

“It hasn’t been easy. Things could have been different,” Juanfran said, mirroring Spain’s untimely collapse with Atletico’s in the Champions league final, when Madrid equalized in stoppage time before securing a 4-1 extra-time win over its city rival.

“I just lost a Champions League and it happened in 90 seconds. That’s football. Hopefully this will help us for the future.”


Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP

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