BLOEMFONTAIN // Spain's capacity to cope with the burden of being overwhelming favourites will be tested again in the Confederations Cup today as they face a revitalised but ultimately limited United States side in the semi-finals. After waiting so long for their first major trophy, the European champions are dealing with an altogether different type of pressure following a two-year run that has seen them go 35 matches unbeaten, winning the last 15 outright.
That time period has also seen the rise of Fernando Torres from promising young talent to probably the best striker in the world, and he remains confident Spain's players have enough humility to remain at the top despite the shower of accolades raining down on them. "We know things have changed for us and we have to deal with that," he said. "Everyone wants to beat us and they know how we play and what to expect. It's difficult for us to provide the surprise factor when we play teams any more so we just have to keep playing our own way.
"This will also be a tough match but I think it's important that we are patient, keep passing the ball and try to score goals. Then we'll be OK. We know everybody wants to win against Spain now and are more defensive, more organised, so we have to play as a team. We have felt what it is like to win a trophy we all want more." Spain have certainly come a long way since they ground down the US to beat them 1-0 in Santander in June 2008, just ahead of the European Championships, and today's match is expected to emphasise their progress.
The Americans are justifiably on a high after beating Egypt 3-0 to reach the semi-finals when everyone in football thought they were already out of the tournament, but that result cannot hide the reality that Bob Bradley's side, although enthusiastic and difficult to beat, are not yet at the level that will earn them the invitation they most crave - admission to the exclusive club of football's elite. "It is a massive challenge for us," Bradley admitted. "Spain are the best nation in football at the moment. For club teams, it's the same as playing Barcelona.
"We know the way they can move the ball and the way they can keep possession. Their ability to play in and out of little spaces is unbelievable, and they keep the ball moving. "They also have great players like Torres and Xavi. So we know we have our work cut out, but we are going to be up for this game." The realistic approach of their opponents, in essence, is the most tangible test facing Spain - and of course to prove they are favourites for good reason.