Spain hunts back-to-back WCup titles in Brazil
MADRID (AP) Spain has a chance to become the first team to win back-to-back World Cup titles since Brazil in 1962, and what better place to do it than in the country that coined the phrase ''Jogo Bonito'' - beautiful game.
Four years after winning its first world title, Spain is not as feared as before, but coach Vicente del Bosque still has the luxury of enough talent and experience to field two teams.
Spain's midfield remains the cog to its success with veteran players Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, and Xabi Alonso; difference-makers like David Silva and Cesc Fabregas; and the arrivals of burgeoning talents such as Thiago Alcantara and Isco to carry forward the team's quick-touch, possession football.
Del Bosque has shown a wily ability to adapt his team to circumstances since taking over for Luis Aragones following the 2008 European Championship.
Four years ago, Spain rallied from its opening loss to Switzerland to reach the final, beating the Netherlands 1-0 with a more defensive approach as Alonso and Sergio Busquets stacked the midfield and protected the back.
Two years later at Euro 2012, Del Bosque dropped the traditional striker to use Fabregas in a ''false 9'' attacking role, culminating with a 4-0 rout of Italy in the final.
In Brazil, the former Real Madrid coach could yet be able to experiment again with the arrival of striker Diego Costa.
Costa's physical prowess and ferocious appetite for goal has overwhelmed defenders during a breakout season at Atletico Madrid.
However, the Brazil-born forward limped off in the Champions League final and doctors treating him say he has a muscle tear that will take two weeks of convalescence before it can be re-assessed. Del Bosque said he is prepared to wait until the last minute to see if Costa is fit to join the squad.
If he is able to travel with Spain, Costa is likely to come under heavy scrutiny as home fans goad his renowned mercurial temper for passing on the chance to play for his native land.
''When I found out about Spain's interest I started to think, `Why not?' For the world champion to consider me is a great honour,'' Costa said. ''Del Bosque has been clear and hasn't promised me anything and I don't want anything handed to me, I want to earn it. I told him I wouldn't join the team if it created problems.''
With Costa and Alvaro Negredo leading the attack, regulars Fernando Torres and Fernando Llorente may not make it to Brazil, while midfielder Juan Mata's seesaw season has likely cost him a trip to South America. Torres conceded the fact that Del Bosque being prepared to wait for Costa showed his importance within the squad.
Spain's defence remains one of its strengths despite the loss of Carles Puyol, with Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique forming a block in the centre, where Javi Martinez can easily slide in.
Cezar Azipiluceta looks likely to partner Jordi Alba to provide Spain with plenty of pace at the fullback positions.
Iker Casillas is the first-choice goalkeeper despite having been relegated to a backup role at Madrid, although his experience has carried him through a difficult season-and-a-half there.
Spain will open against the Netherlands in Salvador on June 13 in a rematch of the 2010 final before a tricky match against Chile in Rio de Janeiro five days later. The defending champions will then face Australia on June 23 in Curitiba, where the squad will be based.
''Simply put, it's one of the toughest groups in the tournament,'' Xavi said. ''We know how hard it is to play the World Cup, especially right from the start with this group we've been put into.''
Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.