Spain, along with the Dutch, have always been regarded as the perennial underachievers of football and while the Oranje at least have two World Cup final appearances to their name, La Furia Roja have never progressed beyond the semi finals – a 4th place finish in 1950 being their best finish to date. Spain has always had talent, with legends like Alfredo di Stefano, Emilio Butragueno, Michel, Fernando Hierro et al having donned the colours of La Roja, which makes their failures on the world stage even more surprising. Despite the abundance of talent, many are skeptical of their chances this time around as well and attribute it to their inability to perform on the grand stage. And yet, this could be one of the biggest reasons why the Jules Rimet trophy lands up in the hands on Iker Casillas come July 11th, 2010.
This generation has seen some outstanding football teams with the industrious Brazilian team of USA ’94 and the extremely talented French team of France ’98 but neither of those had a squad as complete as that of the current Spanish team. With quality in every position and a capable bench, the current generation is surely the most talented in their history. In Vincent Del Bosque, they have an astute manager – one who has taken the team to greater heights after taking over from Luis Aragones. With the talent at his disposal, Spain are sure to do well this time around.
One of the most important positions in football and one where the Spanish have an abundance of talent. While most are in awe of the Spanish mid field, it is their strength in goal that makes this team one of the best. Del Bosque has chosen not to tinker with the personnel that manned the goal under Aragones, continuing with the extremely talented trio of Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina and Diego Lopez. There have been voices in recent times that have called for the inclusion of an in form Victor Valdes though Del Bosque has chosen to ignore those calls for now.
In Casillas and Reina, Spain have two of the most talented keepers in the world and in Diego Lopez, an able deputy. Casillas has not been in the best of form this season but few doubt his ability when it comes to the big occasion. With the additional responsibility of leading La Furia Roja, a lot is expected of the Madridista. Rest assured that come the World Cup, Spain will have one of the best manning the goal.
If there is any weakness in this Spanish team then it is the lack of a quality left back. For all their quality, Del Bosque hasn’t been able to find a player to man the left side of his defense.
Joan Capdevila is the chosen one and while he is an able footballer, he certainly won’t give the opposition too many sleepless nights. A converted full back, he hasn’t been consistent enough to inspire confidence in La Roja fans. At 32, he isn’t the quickest on the pitch and in a system that requires its fullbacks to support the mid field, it might be a bit difficult for the aging Capdevila.
He will be given tough competition for the starting spot by Real Madrid’s summer signing Alvaro Arbeloa. After an indifferent start, the Spaniard has picked up his game as the season has progressed and will have a key role to play come the World Cup.
Sergio Ramos will be an automatic choice to start at right back. The Madrid man has had an inconsistent season but has recently hit a purple patch. His form will be crucial as the Spanish lack width on the right.
Spain have no specialist back up for the right back spot with Arbeloa and Carles Puyol serving as replacements if need be.
Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol are Del Bosque’s first choice for the centre back spots. Both have had good seasons with their club and have done quite well for the national team as well. With a telepathic understanding, they form a formidable pair with each complementing the others style.
In Raul Albiol and Carlos Marchena, Spain have world class back-ups who, if needed, can fill in quite comfortably for the two Barcelona men. With the system Del Bosque plays, the Spanish central defensive pairing makes for a formidable back line.
La Roja’s strength is their formidable mid field. In Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso, they have two of the best in the business. Del Bosques’ attempts at playing them both together has resulted in mediocre results, varying from the sublime to the dismal. Xavi has marshaled the Spain mid field with aplomb over the years and the same is expected from him this time around as well. With Cesc Fabregas on the bench, Del Bosque has a plethora of options available to him.
The job of protecting the backline falls on the able shoulders of Marcos Senna. The naturalized Spaniard has done amazingly well for La Roja and has become an integral part of the Spanish set up. With age catching up and Senna’s form being mediocre this season, Del Bosque has turned to the young Sergio Busquets to share the load. The young Catalan has done wonders ever since joining the first team at Barcelona and has done quite well in Senna’s absence. Many even tout him to take over the starting role from the Villareal lynchpin.
On the right Spain have Andrea Iniesta and Jesus Navas, two players completely different in approach but equally effective. Iniesta has started most of the games on the right but don’t be surprised if Del Bosque decides to start Navas to provide width in a system which is predominantly based on attacks through the middle. While the Barcelona man is more of a midfielder who prefers cutting in and playing the ball around, the gifted Sevilla winger is a traditional winger who prefers staying wide and providing service to the plethora of strikers available to Del Bosque. Gifted with tremendous pace, the youngster has been in amazing form for Sevilla and finally seems ready for the big stage.
The left of mid field sees the extremely talented David Silva starting for La Roja. The Valencia winger gives the Spanish mid field much needed width and able support for the strikers. Not much of a scoring threat, Silva brings in excellent vision and wonderful crossing ability. Juan Mata provides Spain with the option of playing a more attacking player in that position and gives Del Bosque more attacking options in mid field.
Spain’s strength in mid field is complemented wonderfully by the best strikers in the world, David Villa and Fernando Torres. Villa has been prolific in front of goal, having notched up 37 goals in a mere 55 games for La Roja. Fernando Torres has proven to be a brilliant foil to Villa, playing the role of a supporting striker with masterful skill. With both strikers seemingly producing their best form for the national team, Spain definitely won’t be short on goals come the World Cup.
Alvaro Negredo and Dani Guiza have done quite well in the limited opportunities given to them and are more than capable of filling in for the talented duo if need be.
Del Bosque has experimented quite a bit with the formation but has mostly stuck to the existing system when it has come to major tournaments. The 4-2-2-2 has worked well for La Roja and Del Bosque will probably stick with the tried and tested. With Spain concentrating the majority of their attacks down the middle, it will be important for the fullbacks and the wingers to spread the play and provide space for the mid fielders to operate.
Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
La Roja had a perfect record in qualifying, sweeping aside everyone in their group. They go into the World Cup as the favourites and with history against them, this is the perfect time for the Golden Generation to set things right. It is about time the Spanish lived up to their reputation. Viva Espana!