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Guarded optimism, as always
"This tournament will be different!" It has been said too many times for Spaniards to take notice any longer. Spain have never competed in a FIFA World Cup final and their best finish, fourth place, came all the way back in the 1950 World Cup Brazil.
Although they won the UEFA European Championship in 1964 and Olympic gold in 1992, both on their home soil, their relative lack of international success remains a sad tale for a football-rich country consistently brimming with quality players.
Two things will favour Spain's quest for glory at the 2002 World Cup Korea/Japan: new coach Jose Camacho and Spain's status as having what is arguably Europe's top domestic league. Since taking over from Javier Clemente in 1998, the former Real Madrid defender has given the team a breath of fresh air. His attacking style has suited the Spanish players, who seemed uncomfortable with their former coach's obsession with filling the midfield with defenders instead of creativity.
In the UEFA European Championship 2000, Spain fell in the quarter-finals, 2-1, to a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France, as Raul Gonzalez missed a last-minute penalty. They showed enough during the tournament, however, to suggest that with one or two new players, they could be a threat on the world stage.
Aided by Spanish clubs' success in European competitions (Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League winners, 1998 and 2000; Valencia - UEFA Champions League runners-up, 2000 and 2001; Alaves - UEFA Cup runners-up 2001), those missing players appear to have arrived.
Real Madrid's Ivan Helguera, Deportivo La Coruña's Juan Carlos Valeron and Valencia's Vicente Rodriguez have joined the likes of Raul, Fernando Hierro and Josep Guardiola in helping Spain to easily qualify from their group and could be key players in the finals.
Significant past players:
Andoni Zubizarreta, Emilio Butragueño, Estanislao Basora
-- 4th place 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil
-- Quarter-final 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico
-- Quarter-final 1994 FIFA World Cup USA
-- Champions UEFA European Championship Spain 1964
-- Runners-up UEFA European Championship France 1984
-- Runners-up Olympic Games 1920
-- Champion Olympic Games 1992
-- Runners-up Olympic Games 2000
Slovenia continue to impress under Katanec
Once again this remarkable nation of only 2 million inhabitants, which was part of Yugoslavia until 1991, has defied the odds, this time by qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan.
Much of the credit for Slovenia's rise has to go to coach Srecko Katanec. His name translates as "lucky" but the team certainly does not rely on good fortune alone. Katanec believes in hard work, team spirit and solid defending and is understandably regarded as a hero in Slovenia.
Such has been Slovenia's rise to prominence under Katanec that by the end of the qualifying campaign, they had risen to 26th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World rankings, an improvement of over 100 places from when the ranking system was introduced in 1993. The team which was a pleasant surprise at the UEFA European Championship Belgium/The Netherlands 2000 has come a long way since managing only one point in eight games during its qualifying campaign for the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
The nation's chances in the upper echelon of world football rest largely on the fitness and temperament of playmaker Zlatko Zahovic. Slovenia's much-admired number 10 is injury-prone and has a questionable attitude, a spat with Katanec leading to his benching for a friendly after EURO 2000.
Significant past players:
- First round UEFA European Championship Belgium/The Netherlands 2000
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