You would think that a nation that has won the last two European Championships in a row would be instant favorites to repeat the trick again. However, after a disastrous 2014 World Cup campaign, things haven’t been the same for Spain. Naturally, no team goes on winning forever. After dominating international football since 2008, Spain got caught up by the opposition who successfully stifled their possession based football.
And it was not just the opposition who got the better of Spain, their biggest enemy were themselves. On paper they still had the best squad in the world, but in reality many of the nation’s stars were well past their peak. Take Xavi Hernandez for example. Surely one of the best, if not the best midfielder of his generation, at his peak Xavi would control any game at his leisure. Alas, father time waits for no one and Xavi was no longer as mobile or agile as he previously was.
Others suffered the same fate as well. The alarm bells were ringing long before the World Cup for goalkeeper Iker Casillas, but it was during the tournament that it became blatantly obvious to the entire world that the most capped player in the country’s history was surely past his prime. Then there were the two strikers, David Villa and Fernando Torres, both of whom were shadows of their former devastating selves. Xavi’s usual midfield partner Xabi Alonso also announced his retirement from international football after the World Cup. Indeed, it was a time for rebuilding for coach Vicente Del Bosque. A case of out with the old and in with the new. But things haven’t been as smooth as he would have liked.
Possibly the biggest dilemma has been who to play up front.
Diego Costa‘s underwhelming performances in a Spanish shirt and his constant on-pitch antics has meant that he hasn’t even been selected for the squad at France 2016. Neither has Paco Alcacer despite his more than decent record for the national team.
Instead Del Bosque has placed his trust in Alvaro Morata and Aritz Aduriz as his options up front. A special mention should go to the old warhorse that is Aduriz, who at 35 years of age is having the season of his life but is unlikely to be in the starting eleven. The more likely option to start would be Morata, despite the fact he has fallen down the pecking order at his club Juventus. This is mainly because he has gained a reputation as a big game specialist, with the latest illustration of this coming in the Coppa Italia final where he scored the winner against AC Milan just one hundred and twenty seconds after coming on as a sub.
Until recently, the goalkeeper position also seemed to have been a dilemma with Casillas’ reputation still winning him the starting spot despite some less than convincing performances, including a howler in their 2-1 loss to Slovakia early on during the qualification campaign. However, David De Gea’s superb showings for Manchester United means it will surely be him who starts between the sticks.
In midfield, the most pressing issue was who would be Xavi’s replacement. Ironically, Spain didn’t have to look far to find his replacement, as Andres Iniesta has shown he is more than ready to take over the mantle as midfield general. Alongside him as a definite starter is the indispensable Sergio Busquets. A list of excellent names could play alongside these two, including the likes of Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and even seemingly lesser names such as Bruno or Koke.
In defence, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique will surely continue their centre back partnership and Jordi Alba will start at left back. As for the right back spot, the competition is intense but the more experienced Juanfran should start.
After a slow start to the qualification campaign, Spain ultimately topped their qualification group with predictable ease. However, that hasn’t stopped the skeptics declaring this team is behind World Champions Germany and hosts France as favorites for this tournament. For so long the pressure has been on Spain to win every single tournament, so to have a sense of lowered expectations surrounding them this time around may provide a welcome rest bite.
But make no mistake; this summer in France, Spain will be gunning to make it a historic third European title in a row. So write Spain off at your peril.