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Spain´s “wise man” ponders the whys of past failure

SoccerNews in La Liga 5 Jun 2008

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Perennial underachievers Spain headed out to their Austrian Euro 2008 base on Thursday with an underwhelmed media getting the barbs in early after a last warm up match brought an unconvincing 1-0 win over the United States.

Only Xavi Hernandez's late goal separated the 'furia roja' from an embarrassing damp squib of a draw as a final send-off to leave As sports daily voicing “many doubts” about the squad's chances while Marca lamented that “it was a match to forget.”

Even Spanish coach Luis Aragones admitted he was unimpressed.

“I didn't like the first half at all, we really didn't find our rhythm. (Fernando) Torres was isolated up front,” complained Aragones, nicknamed the Wise Man of Hortaleza.

He insisted the USA friendly and the 2-1 win over Peru which preceded it had been worth it “to get the team together and see who is on his game.”

But at the same time Aragones said the two games had not really told him anything he didn't already know.

“Nothing surprises me – I'm just the same as I was before the two games,” he told supporters.

Yet the same old conundrum hovers over Aragones as faced all those predecessors, who tried and failed to break a trophyless run stretching back to the 1964 European Championships, when the Spanish lifted silverware for the only time at senior level.

On paper the Spanish have looked as strong as anyone in recent years yet have always come unstuck, notably against Portugal four years ago and two years earlier when they slid out to surprise package South Korea at the World Cup.

Not since the 1984 Euros, when they lost to hosts France, have Spain even reached a trophy match.

This time, they find themselves in Group D where they face Russia next Tuesday before taking on Sweden and then titleholders Greece.

Four years ago a win over the Russians and a draw with the Greeks was not enough to get out of the group.

On current form Aragones' men should fear nobody with the win over the USA their sixth in a row.

The run has helped Aragones move into second spot in terms of victories for his country with 33, Wednesday's success moving him ahead of Miguel Munoz.

Another three and he will go level with record holder Javier Clemente.

Aragones, never one to shirk controversy, as his omission of all-time top scorer Raul shows, would sacrifice several of those wins to emulate 1964 coach Jose Villalonga.

The 1964 squad triumph over Russia was sealed by a goal from Marcelino Martinez Cao, who spent much of his career with Real Zaragoza.

Aragones may therefore have espied an omen in his selection of attacking newcomer Sergio Garcia, who also plays for Zaragoza, in place of the legendary Raul.

Aragones and Raul have long not seen eye to eye and the Real Madrid man last played for his country early in the qualifying campaign in September 2006.

Villalonga's triumph 44 years ago, achieved with stars such as Luis Suarez, Francisco Gento and Jose Angel Iribar, still stands as the exception to prove the Spanish rule of flattering, ultimately to deceive.

Even he could not prevent successive first-round World Cup exits either side of that success.

The 1990s then suggested that Spain would punch its weight again following an Olympic Gold medal in 1992 and a win in the 1999 World Youth Championship in Nigeria but that generation of young stars was unable to end the long wait.

Now, having swept Raul and the remainder of his country's 1990s vintage aside the time has come for the eccentric Aragones, who was settling in to the squad base at Neustift in western Austria late Thursday, to stand by his selections.

At the last World Cup, Aragones, laughed off making a racist remark about French striker Thierry Henry by saying he had plenty of foreign friends, including gypsies, black people and “even a Japanese friend who sexes chickens.”

But, given Spain's recent record and with strikers David Villa and Garcia nursing injuries which forced them to miss the American clash, Aragones certainly won't be rushing to count his poultry in the coming days.

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