Spain newcomers slot into team easily

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Fitting into a team that is ranked as the world's best has come easier than expected for Spain's newcomers.

Updated: June 19, 2009 17:53 IST
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Bloemfontein, South Africa:

Fitting into a team that is ranked as the world's best has come easier than expected for Spain's newcomers.

European champion Spain has qualified for the Confederations Cup semifinals thanks to a record-leveling 14th straight win and is only one match away from tying Brazil's record 35-match unbeaten run.

Coach Vicente del Bosque and seven of the 23 players in the squads weren't part of last summer's European Championship victory, but the transition for these newcomers has been seamless at the World Cup warmup event at South Africa.

"Aside from the footballing qualities that everyone here brings, it's a phenomenal group of players that get on really well, are part of a big family and there's a great mood between all of us," winger Juanma Mata, who made his second appearance in a 1-0 win over Iraq, said on Thursday.

"They treat us newcomers really well, they make us feel like one more on the team. That's been a fundamental reason why this team is European champion."

Spain has relied on a core group of players such as David Villa, Fernando Torres, Xavi Hernandez and Iker Casillas to stay unbeaten since November 2006.

Now, on the verge of making more history, the Spanish have shown that even after coach Luis Aragones' departure after last year's Euro 2008 win and without injured regulars Andres Iniesta and Marcos Senna, the newcomers have slotted in perfectly _ on and off the field and several more can be expected to take part in Saturday's final Group A match.

"We're always making jokes, there's always a good mood, a good atmosphere despite rumors of transfers and changes of team," said Mata, whose Valencia teammate Villa has been linked with a blockbuster move to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea or Manchester United.

Continuity has been important as well as the fact that players have been able to slot into the team's brand of one-touch, possession football that is modeled on Barcelona's game plan.

"The philosophy is basically the same: keep possession of the ball and attacking football," said Xavi, who has made 75 appearances for Spain. "I feel very comfortable here."

Del Bosque hasn't made any radical changes, relying on a group that draws most of its players from Spanish clubs Barcelona and Valencia and Premier League side Liverpool.

"We've found a very good tactical formation as a team and as people, very human," Del Bosque said.

Iraq coach Bora Milutinovic compared Spain to World Cup winning sides like Brazil (1970) and Italy (1982).

"The most important thing is that we know where we are, who we are and how we got here," Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso said. "There is still a lot to achieve."

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