Spain captain Raul confident about World Cup form

May 22, 2006

MADRID, May 22 (Reuters) - Spain skipper Raul says that despite missing three months of the season with a serious knee injury he will be in better shape for this World Cup than any previous international tournament.

'This could be my last World Cup and I'm really looking forward to it,' the Real Madrid striker told reporters on his arrival at Spain's training camp in Madrid on Monday.

'I'm going to be in better physical condition than for any other tournament.'

Raul, 28, sustained a partial tear of the cruciate ligament and damaged the cartilage in his left knee during Real's 3-0 defeat against Barcelona in November and did not return to action until mid-February.

He struggled to win back his place and did not manage to add to his modest tally of five league goals, his lowest total since breaking into the first team 12 seasons ago.

The striker, who is Spain's all-time leading scorer but has never shone at an international tournament, said he was confident the goals would come.

'I'm improving all the time and when I score the first one, others will follow.'

Spain coach Luis Aragones has selected just two other natural strikers in the squad, with Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres and Valencia's David Villa joining Raul in the 23-strong squad.

Aragones decided to leave out Liverpool striker Fernando Morientes after a disappointing season with the Premier League side, and instead strengthen his side's defensive resources with the inclusion of Valencia centre-back Carlos Marchena.

Torres said that Morientes's omission would not mean the strike trio would be under greater pressure to find the net.

'Morientes was a regular in the team, but the coach has decided not to take him,' he told reporters. 'His absence won't put more pressure on us because we already have to put up with pressure as we want to be world champions.'

The 21-year-old Atletico striker cautioned against any premature optimism and said he hoped the team had learned from its previous disappointments at major tournaments.

'There are some people who are just talking about the quarter-finals and we haven't even won a game yet,' he said. 'The important thing is to start off with a win and take it step by step.

'In Portugal (at Euro 2004) we relaxed in the last game and we paid the price. We hope that we have learned the lesson.'

Spain have been drawn alongside Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia in Group H for the World Cup.

They will be finalising their preparations for next month's tournament in Germany with warm-up games against Russia, African champions Egypt and fellow World Cup qualifiers Croatia.