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Spain optimistic despite facing their toughest game

7 July ~ Confidence in Spain’s World Cup hopes has been fragile ever since Gelson Fernandes bundled home Switzerland’s winner in their opening group game. Concern at their lack of fluidity has expressed itself in the form of debates about tactics and personnel, the latest of them revolving around Fernando Torres’ misfortunes in front of goal. Yet since Saturday’s nervy win over Paraguay that faith has suddenly returned, a strange turn of events considering the identity of Spain’s semi-final opponents, the form team of the tournament.

“Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland,” chirped Sara Carbonero, the country’s and now quite possibly the world’s most famous WAG, reflecting the renewed mood of national optimism in her Marca column. “Germany are one of the best teams around, along with Holland and Brazil,” added Iker Casillas’ other half. “But good sides like that suit us down to the ground. They won’t be parking the bus. They’ll be trying to play us at our own game.”

The anxiety generated over the course of five matches against largely defence-minded opponents has given way to palpable relief at the prospect of taking on the enterprising Germans. The theory is that Joachim Low’s obliging side will allow Spain the space they have so far been denied, a rationale entirely dependent on Germany failing to score the early goals that ultimately did for England and Argentina in previous rounds.

The TV reporter’s optimism is mirrored by Luis Aragonés, the team’s sternest critic in South Africa to date. “Spain have improved so much,” said the ex-national coach, changing tack in conversation with former pupil Paulo Futre in the same publication. “I expect to see them control possession against Germany and play a quicker game… I’m full of belief right now, and I honestly feel Spain will go through.” “That’s my Luis,” commented Marca editor Eduardo Inda, almost beside himself at Aragonés’s volte face.

Further reasons to be cheerful came in Tuesday’s AS. Adopting the Clive Tyldesley approach to football forecasting, which holds that if you have lots of players with Champions League experience in your team, then Algeria ought to be a pushover, the sports daily dedicated a two-page spread to the 157 trophies that the Spain squad have amassed during the course of their careers. “None of the 31 other qualifiers has more champions,” it parped in triumphant tone.

With Paul the soothsaying German octopus also plumping for the men in red, not even the identity of tonight's referee, always a source of concern in Spain, can spoil the mood. According to Rafa Guerrero, the country’s most famous linesman, Hungarian official Viktor Kassai has nothing in common with compatriot Sandor Puhl, the man who failed to spot Mauro Tassotti’s infamous elbow on Luis Enrique at USA 94. “In fact,” added Rafa reassuringly, “I don’t even think he has any contact with his fellow countryman.” Grounds for optimism, indeed. James Calder

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