June 11, 2014

Spain's competition won't allow it to ease into its attempt to become the first repeat World Cup champion in 52 years, and neither will its venue as the world's top-ranked team begins its run in a hemisphere that has never conceded the Jules Rimet trophy to a European team.

The first side to capture three consecutive major tournaments with 2008 and 2012 European Championships sandwiching its 2010 World Cup title in South Africa over the Netherlands, Spain begins its repeat bid in demanding fashion Friday with a Group B match against the Dutch at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.

The rematch of the uninspiring 2010 final in Johannesburg, which La Furia Roja captured 1-0 in extra time, figures to feature a higher display of skill than the overly physical form for which the last match came to be infamously known. Fourteen cards were shown four years ago with the Oranje being booked nine times as they attempted to brutishly overcome the Spaniards' "tiki-taka" system of quick-possession midfield play. Neither team will be overly eager to carry bookings into their ensuing group matches with Chile and Australia.

Vicente del Bosque's squad will be out to prove four years hasn't aged its tactics or returning players beyond again overcoming the Netherlands, all the while deploying its methodic creativity with hopes of eventually matching Brazil (1958, '62) and Italy (1934, '38) as repeat champion.

"We don't have any fear. But we do have respect," del Bosque told FIFA's official website of Holland.

La Roja are also trying to become the first European side to win a Cup in the Western Hemisphere after seven previous tournaments in the Americas resulted in seven South American champions. They got a taste of Europe's South American difficulties in their last match in Brazil as La Roja reached the final of last summer's Confederations Cup, only to fall 3-0 to the host.

Familiar discussions continue to swirl around the makeup of the Spanish attack, and those questions again arose in Spain's send-off series after Saturday's 2-0 victory over El Salvador.

One of those goals worked rather symbolically with David Villa and Brazilian-born Diego Costa both vying for the same second-half finish, as they could be for the same spot in the starting 11 for del Bosque's primary striking duties in Brazil.

Costa, who has dual nationality, elected to play for Spain over the Selecao and seems to be the first choice after a hamstring injury jeopardized his inclusion in the squad.

Villa, Spain's all-time leading scorer with 58 markers, missed Euro 2012 with a broken leg and this figures to be his final major tournament, along with midfielders Xavi, Xabi Alonso and others.

Andres Iniesta, a 2010 World Cup star, is fielding no such questions about his international future and the 30-year-old Barcelona playmaker will once again be the creative force for del Bosque.

Playmaker Wesley Sneijder will have that role for the Netherlands, though he'll be without fellow key midfielder Kevin Strootman, who has been ruled out of the squad due to injury. Sneijder will be in the middle earning his 100th international cap for a Dutch side intent on countering the Spaniards by muddying play with five defenders in a 5-3-2 formation.

"We want to make the space narrow," coach Louis van Gaal said.

The Oranje, who reached the final the last time the World Cup was held in South American in a loss to host Argentina in 1978, return the three top names that carried them to the final in South Africa. However, they also underwent a substantial overhaul and push toward youth.

In front of Sneijder, van Gaal will feature star forward Robin van Persie and dangerous winger Arjen Robben, though the Dutch don't necessarily consider themselves among the tournament favorites this time around. They also won't try to beat La Roja at their craft, instead relying on scoring chances coming from the counter.

"I don't think we're capable at the moment of playing tiki-taka or beautiful football. In the end, it's all about the result," Robben said. "The counter attack is a very dangerous weapon that we're certainly going to use at this tournament."

Robben will recall that tactic narrowly failing him on the break in the 2010 final, producing the match's clearest regulation scoring opportunity only to see Golden Glove winner Iker Casillas turn him away.

Spain remains confident in a system that hasn't failed it on the main stages during its historic run, one that could reach a new apogee in Brazil.

"We need to keep focused and stick to the philosophy of playing style that has brought us so much success," defender Sergio Ramos said. "We don't need to change it, we just need to maintain maximum respect toward our opponent, which is something that has helped us reach the top."

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