By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
It would be a shock of epic proportions. Iker Casillas claimed this week that he could not imagine a World Cup without Spain. But nor, presumably, can anybody else.
The Real Madrid captain is miffed that Spain should have to qualify for a tournament they hope to defend in 2014, having won a maiden Mundial two years ago in South Africa. But that is the reality and, as his coach rightly rectified, that defence starts now.
No team can live off past glories, of course, but Spain will approach these games with their feet firmly on the ground - Del Bosque will see to that. And a look back at previous qualification campaigns also suggests Spain will go about the next eight encounters with the utmost concentration, as La Roja are unbeaten in their last 45 group games over 20 years in the lead-up to football's premier competition.
This time is different, granted, because Spain approach Brazil 2014 as perennial winners instead of luckless losers. So is there still the same hunger and will to win?
Quite simply, yes. "You never get tired of winning," said Andres Iniesta last year. "Even though you may have won everything, the next year you want to win it all again." His club colleagues Carles Puyol and Xavi also aim to be in Brazil in two years' time, despite the ravages of age and injury. And the latter revealed this week: "I am motivated by the World Cup. It will be a great competition in a great place - and I want to be there."
Indeed, a World Cup in one of the great footballing countries is surely motivation enough for any player - whatever he may have won. And, Xavi admitted, there is one more incentive: playing against Brazil.
Spain may have conquered Europe twice and the world in 2010, but the current crop are yet to pit their wits against football's most successful side at this level. And playing against Brazil - in Brazil - presents the ultimate challenge for an international team out to prove they are the finest in history. Beating the five-time World Cup winners on the way to another global crown would be the perfect way to do it. "This generation has never played against Brazil," Xavi explained. "That is an added motivation."
And brimming below the surface of Spain's successful squad is a second string chomping at the bit for their opportunity to win on the biggest stage of all. La Roja's Olympic hopes ended in disappointment in London earlier this summer, but Spain are currently champions of Europe at Under-19 and U-21 level, and the elder of those two sides showed their considerable worth with a 6-0 win over Croatia on Monday. Many of the top talents from that team, including Martin Montoya, Gerard Deulofeu, Isco and many more, will now be hoping to make the cut at Brazil 2014, as well as late bloomers like Betis' Benat.
Whoever plays, Del Bosque will make sure Spain stay focused. "We won't change much," Xavi said. "We just have to keep respecting our rivals and stay humble." He could have said 'hungry' too, but that goes without saying with this Spain side. Their World Cup starts now - and they won't be taking it lightly.
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