spain top of their class

ON A scale of one to 10, Spain's performance in qualifying for the 2010 Fifa World Cup South Africa can only be given top marks.

On top of wins in each of their 10 games, La Roja were the European Zone's second highest scorers with 28 goals, while conceding only five at the other end.

Maturity, resilience and the ability to overcome adversity were all in evidence during their campaign, and few national teams in world football are blessed with squads of such depth and sheer talent.

The Iberians have not rested on the laurels of their Euro 2008 victory, consistently bringing in new faces without renouncing their commitment to attractive short-passing football.

The road to South Africa:

The title of European champions inevitably meant that Spain's opponents redoubled their efforts to claim what would be a notable scalp.

Their narrow 1-0 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina, courtesy of a solitary strike from David Villa, was typical of the kind of gritty resistance they have had to overcome since Euro 2008.

And though Armenia and Estonia were dispatched relatively comfortably, an away clash in Belgium and a double-header against Euro 2008 semifinalists Turkey forced the Spaniards to dig deep for nine valuable points.

After a 2-1 win in Brussels, when they fought back to clinch victory via an 88th-minute Villa strike, came a 1-0 success over Turkey in Madrid, the goal coming from Gerard Pique.

The return in Istanbul marked another 2-1 comeback triumph courtesy of goals from Xabi Alonso and then Liverpool teammate Albert Riera. Belgium were subsequently dispatched 5-0 in La Coruna and a ticket to South Africa 2010 was assured with two rounds to spare after a comfortable 3-0 home win over Estonia.

Far from taking their foot off the pedal, La Selección capped a flawless campaign with victory in Armenia and a 5-2 away thrashing of closest challengers Bosnia-Herzegovina.

La Roja's Group H matches in the 2010 World Cup will see them play against Switzerland, Honduras and Chile and they should easily progress to the next round.

The Coach:

Vicente del Bosque took over where Luis Aragones left off after the Euro 2008 triumph, keeping the same footballing philosophy and core of players who dazzled the continent that summer.

The experienced supremo has also hit the heights at club level with Real Madrid, winning two Uefa Champions Leagues (2000 and 2002), two La Ligas (2001 and 2003), a Spanish Super Cup (2001), a Uefa European Super Cup (2002) and the Toyota Intercontinental Cup (2002).

Del Bosque continued Aragones' faith in the one-touch style that has characterised Spain's play and which relies on midfielders of the highest quality. As a result, the Spaniards have won every game but one since the former Los Blancos boss took charge, the exception being a semifinal reverse against USA at this year's Fifa Confederations Cup.

The Stars:

The team's success has been based on quality and balance throughout the side. In captain Iker Casillas Spain have one of the world's finest goalkeepers, a man who can be relied on to bring his superhuman reflexes to the rescue when most needed.

Midfield string-puller Xavi Hernandez's inch-perfect passing and vision is vital to the Spaniards' fluid style, while at the sharp end of the attack there can be few, if any, better finishers than Villa and Fernando Torres. - Fifa website