Philosophical question number one “When is a defeat not a defeat?” Answer(provided by FIFA) “When it is a penalty shoot-out loss after a draw”.
When a team draw1-1, play extra time and lose 2-1 then clearly the result of that game is a defeat not a draw. But apparently according to FIFA when a team draws 1-1, play extra time and are still level then move onto penalty kicks and lose, that is not a defeat but a draw. Or to put it another way, can the one game of football have a winner but no loser? According to FIFA the answer is yes.
The relevance of this exotic conundrum has excited Spanish minds this week. First the Spanish national team at the Confederations Cup set an undisputed world record for 15 successive international match victories. They also seemed to beat the old Hungarian record, set by the Wunderteam of the 1950s. This Hungarian team that famously for Scots humbled England twice, went 34 games without defeat before losing in the 1954 World Cup Final, the classic case of bad timing.
However according to some bureaucrat in FIFA the current record holder was not Hungary but the Brazil side of the 1990s that went 35 games undefeated from 1993-96, including the 1994 World Cup Final, where Italy were defeated, on penalty kicks.
The problem with this sequence is that it included a Copa America game against Uruguay where the Uruguayans won on penalty kicks. So according to FIFA, Uruguay were the winners but Brazil were not losers. I don’t think so, nor does all of Spain.
So according to FIFA, Spain only equalled the existing record of Brazil when they beat South Africa to ensure qualification for the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. However, this was academic since their opponents in the Semi-Final were to be the United States of America whom they would surely defeat comfortably to remove any ambiguity about the record.
As the whole world now knows including a bemused United States, the plan didn’t go to script and a goal from Villarreal’s 19 year old forward Jozy Altidore gave USA a lead they held until the end for one of the most sensational results ever in competitive international football.

The Spanish press were not too upset by the defeat, much less so than the Italian press and public had been after the two successive defeats to Egypt and Brazil. A headline used by more than one of the Spanish national football daily newspapers was “A doze of humility.” The general line was that Spain had lost to a poorer but stuffy team and it would do them no harm to realise that victory was not inevitable. There was no great sense of loss that Spain would not win the Confederations Cup, just a regret that they would be deprived of a competitive game against Brazil. Maybe the awareness that no Confederations Cup winner has ever gone on to win the next World Cup was a factor in the lack of disappointment. Having won Euro 2008, Spain are a serious competitive team and the general view in Spain is that they will have an excellent chance of winning the World Cup in 2010 and this defeat makes that outcome more rather than less likely. There were no calls for the head of coach Vincente Del Bosque who has brought a calm assurance to the camp, aided by the harder edged Fernando Hierro the rugged centre back who scored the amazing total of 27 goals for Spain.
The Spanish team is very strong, with Casillas in goal, backed up by Reina and Villarreal’s Diego Lopez, 3 of the world’s top 10 goalkeepers. In defence, Sergio Ramos and Albiol, now also of Real Madrid are supported by the Barca pair of Puyol and Pique and the Valencia hard man Marchena. At left back is Villarreal’s answer to Tommy Gemmell, Joan Capdevilla sound in both defence and attack.
In midfield they have Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Fabregas, Senna and Silva, Reira, Cazorla and Mata. Up front there are Villa and Fernando Torres, with reserves of the quality of Guiza and Fernando Llorente. That squad have the quality to win the World Cup. And most important, given the Spanish history of under-performance on the world stage, they now have confidence that they are winners. The defeat to the United States will not dent that confidence rather it will reinforce for them the need for constant vigilance. In Spanish eyes this team are the favourites for the 2010 World Cup, ands the true undisputed holders of the longest ever undefeated run. But that undefeated run is over and so is no longer a psychological worry or burden for them. So the 5-1 currently still on offer with Paddy Power represents a good investment since odds will likely shorten rather than increase once World Cup fever starts with the draw in December 2009.

March 2010 Update
Spain are now the clear favourites for the 2010 World Cup, with 4-1 the best price available. The Group Draw in December 2009 was kind to them, with Switzerland, Honduras and Chile unlikely to cause them many problems. However they are probably in the harder section of the draw for the knockout stages with Portugal, Italy Germany and Argentina likely to stand between them and a Final against Brazil, England, France or Holland.
The squad for South Africa has virtually picked itself with 20 names already determined, representing the squad who comfortably won Euro 2008. There were doubts around two of the Villarreal quartet, Senna and Cazorla both hampered by injuries in 2009. Senna appears to have returned to fitness and form in time to book his place on the plane but it seems unlikely Cazorla will be able to prove himself rehabilitated. His place in the squad is likely to go to Jesus Navas of Sevilla, a hugely talented player who has overcome nervous disposition problems to establish himself as a legitimate international star. He may well also take the place in next year’s Real Madrid squad that had seemed earmarked for Pellegrini favourite Cazorla.
The final squad place would seem to lie between Mata and Pablo of Valencia, Llorente of Bilbao Reira of Liverpool and Negredo of Sevilla
With a defensive spine of Casillas, Puyol, Sergio Ramos; a midfield all world class like Xabi Alonso, Fabregas, Xavi, ,and Iniesta, and front players of the class of Villa, Fernando Torres and Silva then Spain have the strongest pool, the best recent form, and the confidence of winning the European Championships to weigh against a lack of World Cup tradition. The time has come for the Red Angels to conquer the world. I was glad I got my sizeable bet on them on at 5-1 but even 4-1 represents excellent value. For those who prefer a higher return I would recommend a “name the finalists” bet where a Brazil-Spain Final can still be backed at 12-1.