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Spain regains its confidence ahead of World Cup 2018

The team's only setback was a 1-1 draw against Italy last year in Turin, a result that eventually set up a showdown in Madrid last month.

Published: 10th October 2017 03:26 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th October 2017 03:26 PM   |  A+A-

Spanish players celebrate after they scored against Israel during the World Cup Group G match in Jerusalem, Monday, Oct.9, 2017. | AP

By Associated Press

MADRID: Spain earned more than a World Cup berth when it won the difficult Group G.

The national team's successful qualifying campaign, in a group which also included four-time world champion Italy, restored much of La Roja's confidence following disappointing performances in recent competitions.

Spain will head to next year's tournament in Russia as one of the title contenders thanks to the impressive qualifying run that erased many of the doubts surrounding the team following early exits from the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 European Championship.

The eliminations raised questions about whether Spain could successfully revamp its aging squad, but promising coach Julen Lopetegui and a group of talented young players showed the team is on the right track.

"Our qualifying campaign was brilliant," Lopetegui said after Spain defeated Israel 1-0 on Monday to win the group with 28 points from 10 matches, five points more than second-place Italy.

Here are some key points that made Spain thrive in qualifying:

TOUGH TO BEAT

Spain was in control from the start, winning all but one of its 10 matches.

The team's only setback was a 1-1 draw against Italy last year in Turin, a result that eventually set up a showdown in Madrid last month. Spain dominated in a 3-0 victory that gave Lopetegui's team a commanding three-point lead with three games left.

The win over Israel in the final qualifier extended Spain's unbeaten streak in World Cup qualifying to 63 games, a run that dates back to 1993.

GOOD BALANCE

Spain was nearly perfect both on offense and defense, outscoring opponents 36-3 in its 10 qualifiers.

Almost half of the goals scored by the team came in the two 8-0 victories over Liechtenstein, but it also easily defeated Macedonia 4-0, Israel 4-1 and Albania 3-0.

Only Germany and Belgium scored more goals than Spain ahead of the final round of matches on Tuesday, and La Roja's defense was the best among all teams along with England's.

YOUNG TALENT

Spain was led by some youngsters who could be peaking by the time the World Cup begins.

The team's leading scorer in the qualifying campaign was Isco, the 25-year-old Real Madrid player who scored five goals in seven matches, including two in the decisive win over Italy last month.

Chelsea's 24-year-old Alvaro Morata and Madrid's 21-year-old Marco Asensio also were important.

Other youngsters helping Spain include Barcelona's Gerard Deulofeu and Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez.

TESTED CORE

Lopetegui hasn't completely given up on the veterans who helped the team succeeded in recent years.

Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and David Silva remain with an important role in Spain's midfield, and Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique are still crucial in the defense.

Lopetegui may also turn to some veteran forwards such as Iago Aspas and Aritz Aduriz, and even 35-year-old David Villa has not been ruled out.

STEADY COACH

The always-calm Lopetegui was coming off a disappointing stint with FC Porto when he was hired by Spain following Euro 2016.

He arrived credentialed by his good work with Spain's youth teams, and it quickly translated into the senior squad, which remains unbeaten since he took over.

UNITED BEHIND PIQUE

Gerard Pique quickly became a polarizing figure for defending the Catalans in a dispute with the Spanish government in an independence referendum.

His strong stance attracted unwanted headlines to the national team, but players and Lopetegui got behind the Barcelona defender and the episode unified the group even more.



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