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   1 June, 2002 | 1128 IST



France get the blues

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Spain hope to break jinx

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Serial under-achievers Spain begin their 11th World Cup campaign against newcomers Slovenia on Sunday needing a commanding victory to settle their nerves and break a 52-year jinx.

A Spanish side based around the assured defending of Fernando Hierro and the quicksilver attacking skills of Raul should be near-certainties to win group B, also containing Paraguay and South Africa.

Coach Jose Antonio Camacho has a full squad available, after Fernando Morientes recovered from an ankle sprain this week, and the team have recent history on their side, having clinched a 2-1 victory over Slovenia in the group stage at Euro 2000.

But Spain are notoriously slow starters in major tournaments, having won their opening match at the World Cup just twice, the last time back in 1950 when they had their best finish of fourth.

Since then, Spain have managed no better than a couple of appearances in the quarter-finals. Their last World Cup bid in France four years ago was one of their worst as they lost their opening game 3-2 to Nigeria and failed to reach the second round.


The talk in the Spanish camp is of a different mentality this time, a belief that they are going to make something happen.

"We're going to go out believing we can win every game," Camacho said. "We know there will be obstacles in our way but we can't afford to be anxious when we take to the field."

"We know about Slovenia from the last time we played them," said Raul, who is set to play up front between Deportivo Coruna pair Diego Tristan and Juan Carlos Valeron.

"Maybe they're not well known, Zlatko Zahovic apart, but we know they're a good, strong side and are going to cause problems.

"I expect them to pack the midfield and look to hit on the counter-attack."

Benfica midfielder Zahovic is the key figure in the side and the former Valencia player will be carefully watched.

The Slovenians, the surprise team of the 2000 European championship, are well aware of Spain's difficulties in winning World Cup opening games but coach Srecko Katanec is not reading too much into it.

"Let's hope that record continues," he said. "It's not as if we've won any opening games ourselves, though.

"Winning the first match gives you more energy, more motivation ... (but) if we lose and win the other two it's also very possible that we'd go through."

Probable teams:

Spain (4-4-2): 1-Iker Casillas; 5-Carles Puyol, 6-Fernando Hierro, 20-Miguel Angel Nadal, 3-Juanfran; 21-Luis Enrique, 8-Ruben Baraja, 17-Juan Carlos Valeron, 11-Javi de Pedro; 7-Raul, 10-Diego Tristan

Slovenia (4-5-1): 1-Marko Simeunovic; 2-Goran Sankovic, 4-Muamer Vugdalic, 6-Aleksander Knavs, 3-Zeljko Milinovic; 7-Doni Novak, 8-Ales Ceh, 10-Zlatko Zahovic, 11-Miran Pavlin, 18-Milenko Acimovic; 13-Mladen Rudonja

Match referee: Mohamed Guezzaz (Morocco)

Linesmen :
Ali Tomusange (Uganda)
Egon Bereuter (Austria)

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