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   20 May, 2002 | 1412 IST


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Spain's Raul fitter than ever

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Spanish hopes of claiming some long overdue World Cup success received a boost on Thursday when star striker Raul declared himself fitter than ever going into a major tournament.

Raul was far from his best in his first appearance at the World Cup in 1998, managing one goal but generally failing to impress as Spain limped out in the first round.

Euro 2000 was scarcely any better, as he missed a penalty in the last minute of the quarter-final against France, consigning Spain to another early trip home.

Raul arrived at both those tournaments exhausted after helping Real to victory in the Champions League each time.

This year he claimed his third European Cup winner's medal, scoring Real's first goal in the final against Bayer Leverkusen, but he insists tiredness will not be a problem this time.

"It's been a long and difficult season but I'm feeling good," Raul told a packed news conference at Spain's training camp in Ulsan on Thursday.

"I'm definitely feeling better than before the other major championships I've played.

"My plan is to work hard, recover some energy and get stronger ahead of the first game."

Spain have to look back to 1950 for their best performance in the World Cup, when they finished fourth.


Their recent record at major tournaments has been disappointing and Raul concedes that despite the confidence running through the camp the team need to show some immediate form to get the Spanish public believing in their chances.

"In the past it's been a case of a lot of optimism before the tournament, followed by disappointment," he said.

"We're doing the work we need to do and we're determined to do our best but we know the only way to convince people is to start playing well.

"That will be a big step forward for us and will give us a lot of confidence.

"My target here is not to reach the quarter-finals or the semis but to reach the final and to win it."

Spain's first game is against Slovenia on June 2, with their remaining group B games coming against Paraguay on June 7 and against South Africa five days later.

"It's all talk before then," Raul said. "We have to win respect by what we do on the field.

"The first game is fundamental to our chances. We don't want to become obsessive about it but we know we have to do well."

Raul is still only 24 but already a veteran in terms of international experience, with 51 games and 25 goals to his credit.

"It's up to the players with more experience to help out the new people here," he said.

"I'm one of those who have been here before so that's what I'm doing. This tournament is all about the team, not individuals."

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