Five days in, the World Cup desperately needs some Spanish artistry, in the way someone lost in the desert could do with a flagon of water. Germany have excelled, Argentina flickered, and there have been sporadic moments elsewhere, but it has been a stodgy start to the competition – not enough drama, too much conservatism and very little of the lacerating "tiki-taka" passing style with which La Roja, at their exhilarating best, have mesmerised us over the last few years.
They come into the competition as joint favourites with Brazil, and rightly so when you consider the way a great but previously underachieving football country bewitched Euro 2008, coming alive in a way so extraordinary the opinion has formed of a side belonging to a different football species.
Anyone wanting to argue the point should consider that a footballer with the sublime ability of Cesc Fábregas is not even likely to be in the team when they set out to flaunt those talents against Switzerland in Durban tomorrow.
Fábregas would probably walk into any other side in the tournament. Spain, though, are spoilt for choice when it comes to central midfielders of class and achievement. The philosophy is that giving the ball away is unforgivable. It is about maintaining possession, using the ball quickly and accurately, and when everything clicks they do it better than anyone.
Their achievements under Vicente del Bosque and his predecessor, Luis Aragonés, include an epic run of 35 games unbeaten, incorporating a sequence of 15 straight wins. They won the European Championship with something to spare and, importantly, they appear to be free of the cliques and divisions that can exist when bringing together players from different clubs, and particularly when those clubs are bonded by mutual contempt in the manner of Barcelona and Real Madrid. It is almost certain that nine of the expected starting XI against the Swiss will be assembled from Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabéu.
Spanish optimism here is tempered only by the knowledge that their record in the World Cup has been so poor, so ignominious at times, they have grown wearily accustomed over the decades to the allegation that sportsmen dislike the most – that of being chokers. Their previous best dates back to 1950 when they finished fourth. That apart, it has been a story of near-unremitting failure at finals tournaments, not once getting past the quarter-finals in 11 attempts.
"We are the favourites but, on the other hand, Spain have never won the World Cup or even come close," says Sergio Busquets, one of the throng of Barcelona players in Del Bosque's squad. "We have been among the favourites before but ended up badly beaten. We don't have the same record as England, Brazil, Germany and all the other great teams and it is difficult for any of us to know why that is."
It is probably inevitable, therefore, that the question that has been heard most at Spain's media events has been of how Del Bosque's men will acclimatise to the different pressures that accompany no longer being merely dark horses but the team that is expected to prick our senses, play the most unforgettable football, put on a peacock-like spreading of feathers.
The problem with that question is it overlooks the fact these are footballers who have already made their reputations when the heat of the battle is at its most intense – greats of our time such as Xavi, the maestro who made more passes than Arsenal's entire midfield when Barcelona dismantled Arsène Wenger's team in the Champions League, or Andrés Iniesta, a player who gives the impression of being in love with the ball. Xavi and Iniesta, to name but two, are hardly the type to be afflicted by stagefright. The best footballers want to demonstrate their talents in front of the big television audiences. They are turned on by the pressure. They are inspired by it, not fazed.
Xavi, for one, could conceivably be the star of the tournament given that he had more assists (20) last season than any other player in Europe's top leagues and runs an average 12.5km every match. At Barcelona they call him "maqu" – the machine. He is a work of perpetual motion. El Mundo Deportivo has described him as "majestic, an exhibition – his football a recital that never ends".
The word from the Spanish camp is that Del Bosque might keep back Iniesta against the Swiss rather than take the slightest risk with a player who has been having treatment for a thigh injury. The same restrictions could also apply to Fernando Torres after his ankle issues, but there is no sense of alarm in the Spanish media. The replacements are too accomplished for it to matter unduly.
The captain and goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, summed it up: "We have outstanding players; even on the bench they are outstanding. We have players of worldwide importance, players who have won six titles with their clubs, the most important players for their clubs, whoever they play for."
Contrary to popular opinion, it has not been the vuvuzelas ruining the World Cup, but the dreary football. Tomorrow, beside the Indian Ocean, the European champions can remind us why their football could be set to its own music. As the cover of Marca put it last week: "Spain are the best in the world, now we have to prove it."
This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.