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World Cup 2014--national team generations, part IV

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At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil a number of National Teams will be playing what may be the final major tournament with their current generation of stars. For many, this summer may be their current rosters’ last hurrahs. In an eight-part series, we analyze what the cup means to sixteen teams with special hopes for their current generation of stars. We will see how they got to the cup and are preparing for the tournament, and what their aspirations and chances may be next summer. Today we review Ecuador and Spain.

Ecuador

FIFA Rank: 23, Coach: Reinaldo Rueda. Group D: with Switzerland, Honduras and France. Odds of winning cup: 100-1.

FIFA World Cup history: appearances (2): 2002, eliminated in the group stage and 2006, Round of 16, eliminated by England 0-1.

How they qualified for 2014: Came in fourth in CONMEBOL qualifiers, qualifying directly, behind Argentina, Colombia, and Chile and ahead of Uruguay, the seeded team that needed to go to a playoff to make the cup. Ecuador had 7 wins, 4 draws, 5 losses, 20 goals in favor and 16 goals against while amassing 25 points.

Since qualifying, Ecuador have played two friendly games in the USA and tied both: Honduras (2-2) and Argentina (0-0). They beat Australia 4-3 in a memorable game in London March 5th and have set up three very difficult warm ups, against fellow World Cup qualifiers, en route to this summer's tourney in Brazil: May 17th against the Netherlands in Amsterdam, May 31st against Mexico in the USA, and June 4th against England in the USA.

Having played a 16-game qualifying round against the likes of Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay, the Ecuadoreans did well to qualify directly and as their come from behind win against Australia showed, they are poised, hard working and unable to give up. The Ecuadoreans have no lack of confidence and their generation of stars is the reason why.

In the team's last friendly, against Australia, coach Rueda chose onlyone striker, Lokomotiv Moscow's Felipe Caicedo (25, the ex Manchester City striker), backed by nine midfielders. Among those in midfield, were Santa Fe (ECU)'s Edison Mendez (36), Al-Hilal's Segundo Castillo (31), Manchester United's Antonio Valencia (captain, 28), Barcelona (ECU)'s Luis Saritama (30), Morelia's Jefferson Montero (24), and Dynamo Moscow's Chistian Noboa (28). In defense the team is playing Pachuca's midfielder Walter Ayovi (34), Emelec's Jorge Guagua (32), and Barcelona (ECU)'s Juan Carlos Paredes (26).

This team is made up of big and extremely well conditioned athletes who will be taking the Brazilian weather in stride. These players can play a strong possession game while defending well. Those midfielders are true box-to-box players who can be counted on to stop opponents' offensive forays while building up near-Barcelona style attacks. They are also deadly on the counter.

In their group, Ecuador is seen by most as coming in third to seeded Switzerland and resurgent France and only ahead of minnows Honduras. But Ecuador is spoiling to show the world what it is made of this cup and is poised to surprise everyone. They have a genuine shot at coming in first in their group.

Prediction: Ecuador will defeat Honduras, and one of the two group favorites, while earning a draw with the other. If they come in first in their group they will most probably meet Nigeria next and beat them too. Their next opponent will probably be Germany, though, and that will be the end of this generation's progress--their best ever finish, the quarterfinals.

Spain

FIFA Rank: 1. Coach: Vicente del Bosque. Group D: with Australia, the Netherlands and Chile. Odds of winning cup: 7-1, fourth best after hosts Brazil (3-1), Argentina (9-2), and Germany (11-2).

FIFA World Cup history: appearances (14): Champions in 2010, Semifinalists in 1950, Quarterfinalists in 1934, 1994, 2002, Round of 16 in 1982 as hosts, 1990, and 2006, and eliminated in the Group Stage in 1962, 1966, 1978, and 1998. They have qualified for 10 consecutive cups.

How they qualified for 2014: Came in first in UEFA Group I (since 2006 the previous champion has to qualify for the succeeding cup) against France, Finland, Georgia, and Belarus. Spain had 6 wins, 2 draws, 0 losses, 14 goals in favor and 3 goals against while amassing 20 points.

Since completing their World Cup qualifiers with three straight wins, La Furia Roja have played and won two friendlies against Equatorial Guinea and Italy and lost one to South Africa (0-1). Since August of last year Spain has conceded 5 goals and scored 13. Their next warm ups come against Bolivia in May and El Salvador in early June.

Spain is vying to become one of the greatest national football teams in history. Having won the Euro 2008 and 2012 trophies and the 2010 World Cup, if they were to win the 2014 edition of the World Cup they would joint Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962) as the only other nations to successfully defend their title. But, they will also be the only nation to have won successive continental championships and done so over the same time period as they won their World Cups.

For football historians the only question is whether the Spanish team compares to the Brazilian one that dominated world football from about 1958 to 1970, winning three of the four World Cups held over that time span (the foul-marred, English-hosted cup the only exception). The problem is that even though the Brazilian run of supremacy is unmatched, the Brazilian teams used several generations of players, a few playing three cups, and many only playing one or two cups, with Pele the only constant in all four cups,. As national teams go, Brazil is unsurpassed, and its run of 13 years on top is unequaled. But if we look at a single generation of players, Spain can make its claim to history this summer.

In terms of this single generation of Spanish Football stars the following 16 players were on at least three, and most were on all four squads that won two Euros and a World Cup and will be competing in the 2014 World Cup: In goal, Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas; in defense, Napoli’s Raul Albiol, Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, Barcelona’s Gerard Pique; and in the best midfield generation of all times Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets, Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso, Manchester City’s David Silva, and Jesus Navas, and Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla; and on offense, Atletico Madrid’s David Villa, Barcelona’s Pedro Rodriguez, Chelsea’s Fernando Torres, and Manchester City’s Alvaro Negredo. Of this group Pedro and Cesc, at 27 by the time the cup is played, are the youngest. This is probably the last cup for this large and illustrious generation and a win in Brazil is the statement they all want to leave as their legacy.

There is no doubt that Spain are in the hardest group of the opening stage of the 2014 World Cup. Their first game is a repeat of the 2010 finals against the Dutch and they play Chile, one of the strongest teams from South America. To make it to the finals they will probably have to play Croatia, Uruguay, and Argentina. Once they make it there, they will meet either Brazil or Germany, thus needing to beat two of the three top favorites to win the cup.

Prediction: Spain will win the 2014 World Cup in a memorable repeat of the pairing for the Confederations Cup Final.

Caveat: Only if the officiating is fair, this time, will the Iberians beat the hosts.

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