Spain to 'win or die' with free-flowing style

Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas speaks to the media at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil,...

Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas speaks to the media at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, June 12, 2014. (TONY GENTILE/Reuters)

Kurtis Larson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - The World Cup holders will "win or die" by the style that saw them reign supreme four years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Spanish believe Tiki-Taka, the free-flowing style that has made them the envy of the soccer world, will see them claim a second-straight crown.

Oh, and they still aren't afraid of the Netherlands, the side Spain will open its 2014 World Cup campaign against Friday afternoon here in a replay of the 2010 final.

"We want to dominate the game," Xavi Hernandez said in the bowels of the Arena Fonte Nova a day before Spain's Group B opener. "We want to keep the ball. We've had success over these years to justify we play this style ... We're going to win or die with this style of play."

Last summer at the Confederation Cup, they were murdered -- a 3-0 loss in the final to Brazil, a result that was barely referenced Thursday afternoon.

Asked by Brazilian media if he was excited to take in Thursday's World Cup opener between the hosts and Croatia, Spanish 'keeper Iker Casillas indicated he was more interested in getting a shower.

The question was meant to rattle the veteran netminder. It didn't.

He was more interested in talking about the Dutch, the first side standing in the way of a Spanish repeat.

"Our goal is to get that second star for our country," Casillas said. "Four years ago Spain was seen as the best. Any teams trying to play against us will do their best to beat us."

According to Dutch striker Robin van Persie, the defending champs still are the team to beat.

"Spain have a fantastic team ... and in my opinion have the best team in the world," Van Persie told www.onsoranje.nl.

In a brutal 2010 final, the Netherlands pushed a nearly identical Spanish side to the brink before Andres Iniesta broke the deadlock in extra time.

There were 14 yellow cards, a red card and a flying karate kick to Xavi Alonso's chest by Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong.

But for Spanish head coach Vincente del Bosque, the final four years ago was just that: Four long years ago.

"They've changed a lot over the last four years," del Bosque said. "We can't criticize the Netherlands for (their physical) play."

You mean, effective play? Until the Brazilians solved Spain last summer, La Roja was untouchable.

Now, Spain's aging heads -- del Bosque refuted claims Thursday Spain was too old -- are out to prove they're the best national team of a generation.

Pre-World Cup talk has centered around Belgium, Brazil and, at times, tournament newbies Bosnia and Herzegovina, which for Spain's bench boss is a bit of a joke.

He reminded a jam-packed room full of reporters that a pair of Spanish sides -- Atletico and Real Madrid -- met in this year's Champions League final.

Many of his players took part in that game.

"We aren't afraid of anyone," del Bosque said. "We are at our best. These players have been extraordinary for what they've done. They aren't here for what they've done in the past. They're here for what I think they will do."

Follow-up questions from English media: What will Spain do?

"I won't tell you the lineup," del Bosque said. "Not because we want to keep a silly secret. We want all 23 players to be ready for kickoff. I'll choose those I believe will be best for this match."

In the past, Spain has looked best in its trademark, never-before-used-in-the-world 4-6-0, which sees del Bosque trot out two stacks of three midfielders on top of his four defenders, a formation that allows the front six to combine and interchange endlessly before clipping balls in behind opposing back fours.

But with Diego Costa now in the mix, it's unclear if he'll approach Friday's Group B opener with a false No. 9 toeing the offside line.

"We have players to play however we want," del Bosque said.

Because, quite frankly, they don't really care what the Dutch do.

FOR SECOND IN STACKED GROUP

Quick, someone get Australian bench boss Ange Postecoglou some smelling salts. He's beginning to hallucinate ahead of his side's Group B opener against Chile Friday.

Postecoglou is "confident" the Socceroos will "surprise" a few teams here, namely Spain, the Netherlands and their South American opponent.

"We're going into these games as the underdogs and that's fine by us," Postecoglou said in a FIFA release.

Perfectly reasonable, right?

"Within the camp and the group there's still a lot of belief that we can go out there and surprise people. (We are) a young team and there's no fear amongst us."

Sure, "surprise" is relative. It's possible Australia's manager, who took over for former Canada manager Holger Osieck ahead of this World Cup, believes a surprise will be if the Aussies emerge with a goal-difference better than minus-10.

Over to Chile's Alexis Sanchez for a more reasonable pre-game response: "I would be happy if we finished second behind (Spain)," the Chilean striker told local media ahead of Friday's match, a must-win for the Chileans with massive round-robin games against Spain and the Netherlands looming large.

Chile's midfield also could get a shot in the arm this week after Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal trained midweek following off-season knee surgery.

With goal-difference the first tie-breaker in group play, Chilean manager Jorge Sampaoli might not have the luxury of resting Vidal Friday night in Cuiaba.

The World Cup dark horses will need to run up the score on Friday as much as they can.

And that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

KURT'S PREDICTIONS

MEXICO 1 CAMEROON 0

The Mexicans are more talented up front than the Africans are in defence. Close, but Cameroon doesn't have that much quality to speak of.

SPAIN 1 NETHERLANDS 1

The top two teams in this group should produce a cagey affair that both walk away happy from.

CHILE 3 AUSTRALIA 0

We all want to see the Aussies succeed. But this group is asking far too much.


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