2018 FIFA World Cup contenders – Spain

 

Spain World Cup

Background

In this series of articles we will analyse the football bigwigs and see where they stand when it comes to challenging for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. We will start with the 2010 World Cup winners Spain.

Spain – La Furia Roja

La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World

The Spain national team overcame their fruitless history in major football tournaments since their 1964 European Championship campaign and finally realized their undoubted potential as they pocketed the 2008 European Championship under then manager Luis Aragones. As we learnt in thew review of La Roja book, it took the defeating of Italy – their tournament nemesis to make the team feel that they could finally win something. Two years later, they reached the zenith of world football as they won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Spanish national team comprised of a core of players that played for Barcelona. The defence had Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique at centre-back, the midfield had Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, while the forward line contained Pedro Rodriguez. The fact that so many of the first team plied their trade at the same club greatly helped the team’s cause as they became world champions for the first time in their history.

Disaster in World Cup 2014 in Brazil

The team badly struggled four years later in Brazil and were eliminated in the group stage itself. They were completely taken apart in the opening fixture by the Netherlands, who ran riot in a 5-1 win. A 2-0 defeat to Chile sealed Spain’s fate and in the inconsequential last fixture against Australia they won 3-0.

So what went wrong in four years time?

For one, Vicente del Bosque didn’t show enough courage in dropping some of the players who were clearly past their prime and failed to take some of the players, who were performing exceptionally well, on the Brazilian sojourn. The end result was a disjointed side that failed to get going and ultimately paid the price for some questionable selection decisions.

There was also the issue then of Diego Costa. This livewire and at the time huge success story with Atletico Madrid had changed his allegiance from Brazil to Spain. He was one of the hottest commodities on the planet. So suddenly Del Bosque had to fit him into the team. Costa did not fit in with the tiki-taka style. It meant Spain playing a high-line which was a disaster against Arjen Robben and the speedy Dutch players who destroyed the Spanish dreams of retaining their trophy.

Euro 2016 Disappointment

Spain initially had a good Euro 2016. They easily won their first two games in beating the Czech Republic and Turkey. They controlled these games and introduced some new players alongside their established stars. David De Gea also took over from Iker Casillas, thereby showing that Del Bosque could make strong choices.

However, it started to unravel in the game against Croatia. With a 1-0 lead, and a penalty which should have put the game beyond doubt, Sergio Ramos missed and this allowed Croatia a way back in. Croatia had some speedy players who really caused Spain trouble. This defeat cost Spain dearly as suddenly they had to face one of Euro 2016’s most effective teams – Italy. They lost 2-0 in a high-quality game.

Spain also adapted to using an out and out striker in Morata from Juventus. Plus they were willing to keep with the striker option and not return to the Euro 2012 formation of no striker. We saw in the Euro 2016 Final when Eder came on, what a difference a strong hold-em up type of player can make to and for a team. We may see this in the future for Spain. Traditional tiki-taka may be dead.

So what does 2018 has in store for Spain?

2016-2017 Spain Home Adidas Football Shirt

The Spanish national team are blessed with exceptionally gifted players that are coming through the ranks. They have some of the most exquisite midfielders in football in their squad. The likes of Koke, Isco Alarcon, Thiago Alcantara, Juan Mata, Thiago Silva and Mikel San Jose would walk into almost every team in world football – at international or club level. These are the players that are likely to form the midfield of the Spanish national team in Russia.

Not just that, players like Dani Ceballos (currently playing for Real Betis), Oliver Torres (Atletico Madrid), Denis Suarez (Villarreal), Sergi Samper (Barcelona) and Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid) are even younger than the aforementioned stars and in three years time could be in the reckoning for first team action.

To add to the riches of whoever manages the Spanish team in 2018, he will have a variety of midfielders at his disposal. Samper can play as a holding midfielder, while Suarez and Ceballos are exceptionally gifted attacking midfielders. Niguez is an extremely efficient box-to-box midfielder.

In defence, La Furia Roja have Pique, Marc Bartra, Juan Bernat, Juanfran, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Inigo Martinez, Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba to choose from. One of these players could emerge as the Golden Ball winner in Russia as Messi was in 2014.

Strength of the Spanish League

Plus of course the strength of the Spanish La Liga is there for everyone to see. The 2016 Champions League Final was a repeat of the 2014 Final which was between two Spanish teams, Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid. Also, Sevilla have won the UEFA Europa League three times in a row from 2014 to 2016. They will also be in the 2017 Champions League competition.

Additionally, a lot of these players as we have pointed out are Spanish e.g. Juanfran who created the Atletico Madrid equalizer but went on to miss the penalty in the shoot-0ut took over the right back position for Spain.

They are equally blessed in the forward department with the likes of Francisco Alcacer, Pedro, Alvaro Morata, Diego Costa, Munir El Haddadi and Juanmi amongst a host of young prospects to lead the attack.

 

In the goalkeeping department, they will be wells served by David de Gea for years to come with more than capable back-ups in the form of Sergio Rico and Kiko Casilla.

Expectations for Spain in the 2018 World Cup Russia

All in all, Spain need to appoint a good manager who doesn’t shy away from taking big decisions to become a potent force at the 2018 World Cup. With Morata doing well finally, he could even be a candidate for the top scorer award at the tournament.

Currently ranked 6th in the World from their peak of 1st, Spain are experiencing a decline at the moment as Gerard Pique recently admitted. However, Spain’s idea of a decline is still to be one of the best teams in the world. They decline from surely the greatest international team to ever play the game.

Plus, they have some of the incredible and really experienced and successful players such as Pique, Iniesta, Pedro alongside a whole host of world class talent. So, come the FIFA World Cup 2018, a semi-final berth should be their minimum expectation. Their new manager needs to manage the riches effectively in order to deal with the threats of Argentina, Brazil and Germany – the heavyweight competition in Russia.

See also: Who will win World Cup 2018?

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