The World Cup football (soccer) tournament's Group-H features four teams that have never won the trophy - Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. The Spanish team is favored reach the second round, and Ukraine is most likely to be the other team to make it out of the group at next month's World Cup in Germany.
Spain reached the quarterfinals of the 1994 World Cup, but its performance since then has been disappointing. The Spaniards failed to get out of the first round in 1998 and then lost to South Korea four years ago in a controversial quarterfinal match that featured three disallowed goals. In qualifying for this World Cup, the Spaniards finished second in their European group behind Serbia with five wins and five draws. Spain then had to win a two-leg playoff against Slovakia to book its place in Germany.
International football expert commentator Derek Rae says the Spaniards have the potential to advance - and the potential to crash again in Germany.
"We're wondering 'is this going to be the year for Spain?' Luis Aragones the coach is a bit of a volatile figure but he has an excellent group of players at his disposal," he says. "And at every position he really has multiple options. So I think Spain has to be taken seriously."
Ukraine was the first team to qualify for the World Cup and is making its first appearance in the tournament since the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The Ukrainians boast Andriy Shevchenko, arguably one of the best strikers in the world. But Ukraine and Spain know they may have a challenge in Group H opponent Tunisia, the 2004 African Cup of Nations champion. Derek Rae says that Tunisia could surprise the favorites but he is not expecting much from Saudi Arabia.
"You look at Tunisia and you see a side really without major, major weaknesses. And I think they can give Spain and Ukraine something to think about. I don't think that is beyond the realm of possibility," he says. "The other side in that group, Saudi Arabia, have rarely made an impact in previous appearances in the World Cup finals. Last time around they looked out of their depth, frankly, and I am not expecting miracles from them in this World Cup."
Saudi Arabia did go unbeaten in qualifying, allowing only one goal in six games to finish atop its Asian group ahead of 2002 semifinalist South Korea. However, Saudi Arabia's high point so far has been its debut in the 1994 tournament, where it made the second round in the United States. Since then, "the Falcons" have disappointed fans, managing only a draw against South Africa in 1998 and five defeats, including an 8-0 loss to this year's host Germany four years ago.