LANDOVER — As the Spanish national soccer team headed into its final warm-up game before leaving for Brazil, and with one last chance to work out any kinks before setting out to defend its World Cup crown, manager Vicente del Bosque wanted his team to show him something.
"The most important thing for us," del Bosque said at his news conference Friday, "is that the 23 players that we have are peaking at the right time for the World Cup."
Del Bosque's side did, in the end, secure a 2-0 win Saturday over El Salvador before an announced 53,267 at FedEx Field. But the result hardly inspired confidence.
Spain, the world's No. 1-ranked team and winner of the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European championships, ended the first half scoreless, needing two late strikes from striker David Villa to pull away.
Midfielder Xabi Alonso acknowledged Friday that he and his teammates didn't know much about El Salvador, but Villa dismissed any notion that Spain would not be taking its foe seriously.
"We've been working hard, the players, to have an opportunity to play, and we always respect our opponent whoever the opponent may be," he said Friday. "We're a professional team, and we conduct ourselves at all times as professionals, so we don't minimize the opponent for any reason."
Spain kept just two starters from its most recent friendly, a 2-0 win over Bolivia on May 30 in Sevilla.
Cesc Fabregas got the team off to a wayward start Saturday when his third-minute penalty kick flew over the crossbar, wasting a chance to quash El Salvador's hopes early.
Nonetheless, much of the team's usual attacking verve was on display, as Spain controlled the ball for just under 80 percent of the match. El Salvador, which didn't make the final round of World Cup qualification in the CONCACAF region, failed to record a shot on target on the night. Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas didn't have to come off his line to make a play until the 42nd minute.
But every brief spell of possession or defensive stop elicited a barrage of cheers from the decidedly pro-El Salvador crowd.
"I'm very proud of the effort of my players," El Salvador manager Albert Roca said. "I want to salute them. They gave it 100 percent today on the field."
Villa's breakthrough came in the 60th minute, when a short corner kick freed him up from inside the 6-yard box. The insurance goal, Villa's second score of the day, came in the 87th.
Going into Saturday's game, though, all eyes had been on another Spanish striker, Villa's former Atletico Madrid teammate Diego Costa.
Costa, who played two exhibitions with Brazil before switching his allegiance to Spain earlier this year, was substituted with an injury early in Atletico's 4-1 loss to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final May 24. He did, however, pass a medical Wednesday ahead of his impending move to Chelsea.
"If I thought it was a risk to play Diego Costa, we would not play him," del Bosque said Friday. "I think that he is doing well. We have talked to the medical staff, so we think that he's recovering."
Coming off of a career season, in which he scored 27 times in 35 league matches, Costa had three shots against El Salvador and drew the foul that led to Fabregas' missed penalty. Del Bosque added after Saturday's win that Costa was "still regaining his fitness."
Spain opens play in Group B on Friday — the tournament's second day of action — against the Netherlands, a rematch of the 2010 final. A much-improved effort probably will be needed.
"Obviously, we know that we have had a great run over the last six years. It's not easy to achieve what we have achieved so far, two Euros and a World Cup, between then," Alonso said. "We don't think that it might be the end. We see the next World Cup as a great chance to achieve something without precedence in football history.
"I think that, probably for a few players, it could be their last chance to play in a World Cup. And hopefully we will perform our best and try to do as well as we did in the last one. It's not an easy task, but we are up for that."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun