How they got here
Spain’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 was a perfect operation, in which they played 8...and won 8. There was little for Vicente Del Bosque to be concerned with, and any testing moments were well navigated. The only testing games were those away from home, when Lithuania and then Scotland asked serious questions of Spain. In Kaunas the Lithuanians were tough to break down, despite Spain taking an early lead, and it wasn’t until a loosening up of the attack that the regular flow was found. Scotland too, produced a high intensity performance to give Spain a real contest and it wasn’t until a 79th minute Fernando Llorente goal they were to get maximum points. Overall La Selección found the net 26 times in Group I, conceding just the 6, as they maintained a 100% record. David Villa managed 7 goals across the 8 games, but as we all know, qualifying was his last action with La Selección.
Why they’ll win
There are many reasons why Spain will win the tournament; in fact it’s probably easier to determine which factors will prevent them from doing so. However, from experience to talent, Spain are one of the favourites to win in Poland and Ukraine. Behind them they now have two major tournament victories and the curse that seemed to be on the team was lifted first by Luis Aragónes in 2008, then completely eradicated by Vicente Del Bosque two years ago in South Africa. Key members from both squads remain, but those who have left happened to be replaced by others of a considerably higher quality. Aragónes had Palop, Marchena, Ruben de la Red, Sergio García and Dani Guiza. They’re all gone, with a new breed taking Spanish football into its strongest period.
The defence is experienced despite Puyol’s loss; it’s solid and now with added exuberance (Jordi Alba). The midfield department is the strongest area, containing some of the finest players in football today, and in attack they have options in the form of the gutsy Álvaro Negredo to the imposing Fernando Llorente. Fernando Torres has lacked belief this past season but no one keeps more faith in El Niño than Del Bosque, so a return to form isn’t a ludicrous notion.
Why they won’t win
Spain’s problems are very clear. Firstly, the loss of two key figures. David Villa, one of if not the greatest striker in Spanish football history, is still recuperating from a broken leg he suffered. Then, there is the leader and soul of the team in Carles Puyol. The Catalan is a titan in defence, those are the words of Del Bosque, not me, and that gives you an idea of the sheer weight of the problem in replacing him. Another Barça man suffered injury too, in the shape of Villa. Del Bosque labelling him ‘irreplaceable’ recently – those who have watched him since his Sporting Gijón days understand why; he is unique in his style and Spain might not produce another like him. Given that, the suggestion is that the attack is lightweight too, and the inclusion of Soldado’s directness and Adrián’s industrious nature would’ve been most welcome. A few people wanted Iker Muniain too, but the exploits with Athletic Bilbao has taken its toll on the young body. Then there is the issue of fatigue, with both Barcelona and Real Madrid pushing each other relentlessly in the league while in European competition, it has taken its toll on key characters like Xavi and Xabi Alonso who have had little rest bite. It could prove that Del Bosque’s many options prove vital, but are they up to the task of replacing the figures already taken Spain to glory previously? Many still attribute the Barça – Real Madrid divide as something that could bring about the downfall of the team but the truth is there have never been repercussions at this level given the respect, and incredible bond formed in South Africa.
We’ve seen before
With Puyol unavailable, it leaves Spain looking for a new icon in the dressing room. Casillas, Xavi and Xabi Alonso and Andrés Iniesta are the familiar figures who will be asked to lead and provide a presence in the dressing room and on the field. They are experienced, wise, successful and talented – the influx of younger players into the squad will look up to those four for guidance. Even the younger players carry with them the weight of experience now; Busquets, despite still only being 24, has been there and seen it all already with club and country. Sergio Ramos is there too, though the last thing people will remember him for is that penalty miss against Bayern Munich of which they still haven’t found the ball yet. Still, his season has been a fine one with Spain’s newly-crowned Champions.
The ‘one man wing’ Jordi Alba is the not-so-secret weapon in Spain’s vast arsenal. Del Bosque has been keen to point out the wide areas will be key this summer, as teams look to stifle Spain’s central attacking hub. Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and others often get shut down by sheer numbers and it makes Spain tread water at times. In Alba, they have a natural outlet in wide areas who can bomb up and down like few Spanish full-backs have done so before. He can defend adeptly, but it’s in attack he comes truly alive providing smart, intricate combinations with the attacking players to get in behind defences. His explosion at Valencia this season was impossible for Del Bosque to ignore. Juanfran is an unfamiliar name for many also, but the converted right back has been a solid and consistent performer as Diego Simeone’s revolution at Atlético Madrid took flight. Del Bosque has spoken of the “defensive and attacking balance” that he can provide.
How they’ll play
Gradually over time Barcelona’s style of play has been moulded into the Spanish setup and we should see that come full circle this summer. In what starts out as a 4-2-3-1/ 4-3-3 can develop into a 3-2-4-1 smoothly with many tangibles. In defence they’ll often switch into a back three, perhaps with Sergio Busquets dropping deep to provide a safety net for the centre-backs. Both he and Gerard Piqué can move out of defence into midfield with subtle ease, and at the same time move Spain further up the field to suffocate opposition midfield and defence.
Sergio Ramos will step into the significant boots of battle-hardened Puyol, and look to stamp out slight petulance that remains in his game. He’s had a stunning season at centre back under José Mourinho, and the bitter pill of Puyol’s loss will be slightly easier to swallow with this in mind. Both Busquets and Xabi Alonso will be manning the rear, looking to equally break up attacks but also provide the first signs of life as they funnel balls into attack zones for the more attacking minded players to showcase their abilities. Jordi Alba will be looking to break out wide, and Alonso will look to search him out as he has done so with Marcelo in Madrid this past season. Xavi will look to dictate as he does so gloriously, retaining possession as the likes of Iniesta dart around him. Iniesta’s the hero in South Africa, will be given the task of breaking through between the lines, laying off neatly to teammates and using his intelligence running to take players away and open up gaps for others to run into. If Spain becomes bogged down we’ll see their downfall, as fluidity is key to their success. David Villa’s injury will let someone else in, so ‘another Iniesta’ could be found in the form of David Silva or Cesc Fàbregas.
Pedro could be the joker in the pack for Spain; out of form and injury ridden with Barça he’s fresh and ready to power pass opponents again. As we saw against Venezuela the extra ingenuity in midfield can open up all sorts of passages of play, bringing others into the game and creating chaos for any opponent. It remains to be seen how Del Bosque will approach the number 9 situation. It could be that Llorente leads from the font and becomes the focal point for others to manoeuvre around. His hold-up play could be decisive with more figures buzzing around him, and his aerial prowess is no secret. Negredo can offer similar, and roams into the channels extremely well. Spain will look to use Alba to open up the field, and his give and go’s with the midfield and attack will provide that little extra something in La Roja’s mix. Whatever, and whoever is chosen, Spain will stick to their values of emphasizing their control and superiority through technique and intelligence.
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