Although they may not be the odds on favourite to win (that would be Brazil), due to the obstacles—injuries, unfortunate refereeing decisions, weather, luck, etc. — all teams will face during the tournament, Spain has as good as a chance as any of the other top teams.
In a tournament like the World Cup, these uncontrollable events are what make the difference between victory and defeat. The team that ends up hoisting the trophy on July 13th will have done so through not only excellent play but also through luck and their ability to avoid or overcome the various unknowns that they will undoubtedly encounter. Due to this uncertainty, one of the most important things a team can do is to put themselves in the best possible situation for success and then hope the breaks go their way.
Therefore, for this Spain team to become immortalized by repeating as world champions, it is imperative for them to avoid playing Brazil for as long as possible ( in all likelihood, if Spain is to repeat they will probably have to beat Brazil at some point). This means Spain must win their group as a second place finish in group B would almost guarantee a round of 16 match-up with the host nation. Although the complete Brazilian domination at their last meeting in the Confederation Cup may give Spain pause, the real reason for the necessity of delaying a match-up with the host nations is that in this World Cup, the later you can play Brazil, the better.
Common World Cup knowledge dictates that it is best to play teams early in the tournament before the players can form an on-field relationship, before the team knows all its strengths and weaknesses, and before the team can get on a roll. However, in this World Cup and with this Brazilian squad the secret to beating them maybe in delaying the match up for as long as possible. This is largely due to two factors that have the potential to handicap this Brazil squad: the pressure the team will be under and the World Cup inexperience of the squad.
Not only is Brazil the current favorites to win the Cup, they are under massive domestic pressure to “avenge” the last time Brazil hosted the tournament in 1950 and lost to Uruguay in the finals. This year, the Brazilian squad will be expected to win every game and as they progress deeper into the tournament the pressure will only intensify. Further, any mistake or slip up will be accompanied by criticism from across the entire country and across all sectors. In short, perfection is demanded of this Brazilian team and anything short of that will not be tolerated.
Thus, the amount of pressure that the Brazilian team is under may be unmatched in recent World Cup history, so much so that even an experienced squad would struggle to avoid succumbing to it. That doesn’t bode well for this team as this Brazilian squad is not what you would call an experienced team. Only 6 players have been to a World Cup before despite the average age of the team being near 28.
These inexperienced players will not only have to deal with the spectacle that is a World Cup but also with the weight of a nation and 64 years of frustration (despite Brazil’s massive success in the tournament, 1950 still haunts the nation). As the team advances farther into the tournament the domestic pressure and criticism will only intensify and if they lose, they will be forever tainted with that disappointment. That kind of pressure late in the tournament may force Brazil’s players into playing tight and striving for a mistake free game. In doing so, they would give up what makes them a threat— their creativity and flair—and may make them easy pickings for an experienced team like Spain.
Spain on the other hand is coming into this tournament with little pressure. They are not the favorites and their style of play, once praised is now pronounced dead. Furthermore, the squad is made up of veterans of the team’s recent triumphs in the 2012 Euros and the 2010 World Cup. Not only is the team the most experienced in this World Cup (the roster has the most caps in the tournament) it is the most experienced at surviving and winning in big tournaments. The longer Spain sticks around the more formidable they will seem to their opponents, the more their style of play will seem impregnable, and the more the squad will look like deserving World Cup champions.
Thus, the later Spain plays Brazil the more of a threat they will appear to the host nation, the Brazilian supporters, and those seeking redemption for 1950. In a later match up, Spain will field an experienced squad playing with house money which will only add unneeded pressure to Brazil and its unexperienced squad.
In essence, Brazil and Spain are polar opposites. If Spain wins the tournament, few people would be surprised, if they falter, no one would think twice. The younger generation will be asked to replace the older ones and Spain will look to the Euros in 2016. Not so for Brazil. It is win or nothing for this team and the farther they advance the more they will feel that pressure. Each player will know that their legacy is forever tied to each game they play.
If Spain faces Brazil early in the tournament, the game will seem nothing more than the old champion trying to hang against the next king. However, if Spain hold off meeting Brazil till the end (or near it) the game will become a nothing-to-lost affair for the World Champions and an everything-to-lose, must win game for the hosts. Which team has the experience and better squad for that game?
World Cups are won and lost in moments of brilliance, moments of stupidity, and sheer luck. Spain has the experience to create the first one and to avoid the second. And by winning their group, Spain can make their own luck by ensuring they meet Brazil as late as possible.