torres-xl2

Fernando Torres and his Spanish teammates have put their los to the United States at the Confederations Cup firmly behind them. ((Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images))

It was one of the biggest soccer upsets in recent memory.

When Spain took to the field for its Confederations Cup semifinal matchup against the United States last June, few gave the Americans much chance.

La Roja, after all, was the world's top-ranked team and entered the game riding an incredible 35-game unbeaten run, (which included a world-record 15-match winning streak), while the U.S. squeaked into the semifinals after posting a miraculous victory over Egypt in the group stage of the tournament.

Success leads to imitation

Spain's victory at Euro 2008 and its subsequent success in international play could lead to other countries copying its playing style and adopting a similar tactical approach at the 2010 World Cup.

Spain's pass-and-move style, which emphasizes quick ball movement and maintaining possession in midfield, allowed the Spanish to romp to victory at the 2008 European Championship.

Spanish club FC Barcelona used the same tactics to great effect in 2009, winning a historic treble: the UEFA Champions League, the Spanish league title and Copa del Rey.

"Obviously, different countries will take different tactical approaches and there's a level of pragmatism that comes into play. But I do think success breeds imitation," said British soccer writer Sid Lowe.

"Greece won Euro 2004 playing the most hideous, defensive and boring football and other teams copied that.

This, the pundits predicted, was going to be a cakewalk for Spain.

The Americans took everything the Spaniards threw at them, though, and stunned the reigning European champions with a 2-0 victory, a result that sent shockwaves throughout the soccer world.

But instead of sulking, Spain quickly put that surprising loss behind it and got on with the business of earning a World Cup berth, which it duly did by finishing its qualifying campaign with a perfect 10-0 record.

In the end, the loss to the U.S. was the best thing that could have happened to Spain, said star striker Fernando Torres.

"In a way, that defeat did us good by helping us realize that the road to the World Cup wasn't going to be easy, but that we had to stay on track," Torres told FIFA.com.

Any team can be beaten

"We've now recovered any confidence that we may have lost that day against the United States. What matters is we're heading into the World Cup unbeaten and we want to finish it that way, without losing to anybody."

The loss to the Americans also served as a reminder to the Spanish that the gap between the sport's traditional heavyweights and its emerging powers is shrinking, and that any team can be beaten on any given day.

"I think that [Spain] always has its feet on the ground. Humility is the hallmark of this Spanish national side. But we've realized that anybody can have a bad day and that a bad day puts you out of the World Cup," Torres said.

"That was made very clear to us [at the Confederations Cup]. But we now know what we have to do so it doesn't happen again. South Africa 2010 is our big chance and we don't want to waste it."

Still, Spain is brimming with self-confidence ahead of the World Cup, but there is a growing fear it may be too confident, a fact not lost on national team coach Vicente del Bosque.

"There's a slight risk of believing too much," Madrid-based soccer journalist Side Lowe recently told CBCSports.ca.

"Del Bosque described that being the favourite is a terrible trap. The problem is that the way people are talking in Spain, it's a matter of: 'We're either world champions or we're rubbish.' People will not accept anything less and if Spain doesn't win the World Cup, many will view it as a failure.

"That being said, there is, with some justification, a feeling that apart from Brazil, Spain is the clear favourite."