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Sunday, 14 May, 2000, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Spain form guide
Luis Enrique
Luis Enrique is one of Spain's driving forces
The country that gave the name, if not the location, to the most famous riding school in the world will have become used to being regarded as dark horses for international football tournaments.

Unfortunately for all who marvel at their occasional brilliance, their cavalier approach has all too often been their undoing.

This time there can be no excuses.

Spain were arguably the most impressive outfit during qualification, scoring 42 goals in eight games and topping their group with something to spare.

The disappointment of losing 3-2 away to Cyprus in their first game was avenged in no uncertain terms with an 8-0 thrashing in the return leg.



Guardiola: Back in the pack
Who could therefore argue with their seeding as one of the top four teams?

Those who, after all the pre-tournament hype, felt so badly let down by Spain's performance during France 98 might be putting their hands up now.

Bang in form and stylish with it, they were heralded as realistic contenders for the world crown.

The upshot was a 3-2 defeat by Nigeria and a goalless draw against Paraguay.

Typically, they turned on the charm with a 6-1 demolition of Bulgaria. But it was not enough to save them from crashing out in the first round.

Once again people are talking about Spain as potential finalists - and with good reason. To have any chance, however, they must find a way to eliminate the off days and dispensing once and for all with inferior opposition.

The signs are good. Jose Camacho took over from the unimaginative Javier Clemente as coach and that 3-2 defeat to Cyprus, which followed hot on the heels of their failure in the World Cup, proved to be a watershed.

Seven successive wins in qualifiers followed, including 9-0 drubbings of Austria and San Marino as well as the Cyprus caning.

That scarcely credible annihilation of Austria in Valencia revealed most about the side, though not just because of the scoreline.

It marked a return to the fold for Josep Guardiola, the influential Barcelona midfielder who has it in him to rouse his side from lethargy, or calm things down when over-excitement sets in.

Indeed it is from the midfield that Spain are most likely to be a threat to the other tournament heavyweights - if, that is, they overcome the threat they pose to themselves.

They then have it in them to add to their solitary European crown of 36 years ago.

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