World Cup: Spaniards leave tournament

But this time the consistent underachievers head back to Spain with hopes that a squad full of budding talent will bloom into a team of champions.

Spain, which has never placed better than fourth at the World Cup, got an impressive start in its 12th attempt for the title. Powered by Torres and attacking partner David Villa, it routed Ukraine 4-0 before securing a second-round spot with a 3-1 comeback against Tunisia.

Coach Luis Aragones fielded the reserves to clinch a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the last group match.

The team brimmed with confidence and both coach and players were already talking about a possible quarterfinal against Brazil as they prepared to send France home.

But in the end, the spry legs and ambition of Torres and 19-year-old midfielder Cesc Fabregas could not match the experience and savvy of former world champions Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry.

France recovered from a goal down to beat Spain 3-1 on Tuesday, not by playing better - Spain dominated ball possession - but because it knew how to strike without mercy at the opportune moment, according to the AP.