Spain could help erase its big tournament reputation

Members of the Spanish U-20 soccer team sprint during practice at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton,...

Members of the Spanish U-20 soccer team sprint during practice at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alta., on Friday July 13, 2007. They will face the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal of the Fifa U-20 tournament on Saturday. (Photo by Darryl Dyck/Edmonton Sun)

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

The reign in Spain is mostly non-existent.

One of the greatest nations in the game, Spain's history is so horrid that even the fifa.com website report spelled it out when the Spaniards overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Brazil in extra time in Burnaby in the FIFA U-20 World Cup to book their flight to Edmonton for tonight's quarter-final:

"Spain, always expected to choke in the time-honoured fashion ..."

Nobody crashes and burns like Spain.

Nobody pulls the parachute like these guys.

HAPPY ENDING?

Is this team different?

Are we about to watch a rare happy ending to a Spanish international soccer story?

Spain is certainly favoured to get past the Czech Republic tonight at Commonwealth Stadium and to stay here for next Wednesday's semifinal, quite possibly against Freddie Adu and the USA.

That would be a semifinal with some real sizzle.

It certainly beats the bleep out of an Austria-Czech alternative.

But can Spain be counted on to make the match? Too many times internationally they've managed to get to this game only to have to end up calling home to mommy.

Despite being one of the great countries in the game, Spain almost always leaves a stain.

The nation with some of the greatest club teams in the world, led by Real Madrid and Barcelona, has been among the favourites at so many World Cups over the years.

Consistently ranked in the top 10 (currently No. 7), Spain has only once made it to the final four at the World Cup, finishing fourth way back in 1950.

It's the same at the U-20.

Spain ranks in the top three in games won at this tournament over the years with Argentina and Brazil. But Argentina has won five titles, the Brazilians four and Spain only one despite an all-time win-loss-draw tournament record of 33-14-10.

The mental makeup of Spain always seems to get questioned.

And you can always get a good debate in a tapas bar about whether the Spanish Primera Liga is at fault for that for bringing in so many superstars from around the world to play ahead of homegrown talent.

The whole subject of Spain going down the drain is always not far from the surface of any pre-game press conference at this stage of proceedings as it was yesterday when coach Gines Melendez took his place behind the microphones.

Refusing to put the senior World Cup history in the mix, Melendez said recent U-20 history is all that matters and Spain has nothing to be ashamed of recently, even if they did go out in the quarter-final two years ago in the Netherlands.

"This team is used to winning championships, especially at this level. We won the title in 1999 and we were runners up in 2003. We were also European champions last summer."

He believes his team is a good bet to go all the way.

"This team is very capable of winning this tournament and we still haven't played our best soccer.

"Our league in Spain finished on June 17. So some of our players are very tired coming over here.

"It's a long season in Spain. And a few our players are very important to their club teams.

"I think if we can get past this game, you're going to see a Spanish team with a lot of potential," he said of having four days between the quarter-final and the semi-final without having to take a plane.

"We're confident we can win this tournament," Melendez said.

ENTERTAINMENT

Spain has definitely been a study in this FIFA U-20 World Cup. You certainly can't accuse them of not providing entertainment. They've scored 12 goals. But given up seven. Chile, in this tournament has given up zero.

"We are always attacking," the coach explained.

"If you attack all the time ..."

Stuff happens.

The question, though, is will stuff happen to Spain again.


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