Things don’t often run smoothly at World Cups, even for the countries that go on to lift the trophy at the end of the tournament. Spain’s 2010 success is a case in point, as Vicente Del Bosque’s side lost their opening group game - to Switzerland, ironically enough, as it could be that the weekend draw with the same opposition gives Spain the jolt they needed before the tournament even begins.
The World Cup betting puts Spain among the favourites to succeed in Russia - behind only Brazil, holders Germany and France - and it’s not hard to see why. Even taking his error against the Swiss into account, David De Gea is a goalkeeper the envy of all but a very small number of World Cup participants and some of the players Julen Lopetegui left at home would walk into the squads of other supposed-heavyweights. That this is a fresh Spain, compared to the one that toiled in 2014, but still has a significant amount of positive experience, shouldn’t be overlooked either.
So why did Spain draw with Switzerland? Lopetegui and his staff will be asking themselves the same question, and wondering over what the answer means for the team’s first World Cup group game, against Portugal on June 15. This wasn’t a full-strength Spain, for one thing, as it had no Real Madrid players and a centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Cesar Azpilicueta. It was also the first friendly after a long club season and, as well, if De Gea is going to make an enormously rare error, better he does it in a pre-tournament friendly than when the games really matter.
That’s not to say there is nothing Lopetegui can learn from the result, no questions that need to be answered or issues that need to be addressed. But that’s what Tunisia can do, a chance for Spain to hit the ground running when proceedings finally get underway in Russia. There will be six days between the game against Tunisia in Krasnodar and the Iberian derby in Sochi - a win in the former and a good-natured, well-focused period before the latter could make a big difference.
The Tunisia game then is not so much a friendly as a dress rehearsal, a chance for Lopetegui to decide on his forward combination, De Gea to put his mistake behind him and those players not involved at the weekend to get back into the swing of things. A few sharp training sessions and a professional job done against the Eagles of Carthage will stand Spain in excellent stead for the World Cup. The tournament eight years ago started with disappointment and ended in celebration - if the disappointment is already out the way, then the celebration could well fellow.