(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
It’s pretty good to be Spain right now. A beautiful country, an improved economy, the top domestic league in the world…oh, and it also happens to be the home of the current World Cup holders. La Roja will head to Brazil next month attempting to become the first country in 52 years to successfully defend the World Cup. Spain definitely will head into the group stage not only as the favourites to take Group B, but as one of the favourites to win the trophy once more. Squad below.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), David de Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli)
Defenders: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Raúl Albiol (Napoli), César Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Juanfran (Atlético Madrid), Alberto Moreno (Sevilla), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
Midfielders: Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona), Ander Iturraspe (Athletic Bilbao), Koke (Atlético Madrid), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Jesús Navas (Manchester City), David Silva (Manchester City)
Forwards: Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid), Fernando Llorente (Juventus), Alvaro Negredo (Manchester City), Pedro Rodríguez (Barcelona), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), David Villa (Atlético Madrid)
Manager: Vicente Del Bosque
2010 refresher: Spain won it all. Andrés Iniesta’s 116th minute tally was the finale’s only goal as Spain saw off the Netherlands in a cagey affair in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Goalkeepers: Casillas, to no one’s great surprise, will get the nod in goal. But look for de Gea to assume #1 responsibilities in 2018, and maybe before then at Euro 2016.
Defenders: Del Bosque elected to infuse some new blood into the Spanish back end, as Azpilicueta, Carvajal, and Moreno were all named to the provisional squad. Those three are on average 22 years old and have a combined seven caps between them. Moreno in particular was a surprising selection. The 21 year-old is a Liverpool target, and he recently completed a Europa League-winning campaign at Sevilla. The left-back is a very strong dribbler and was second on the Andalusian club with 2.5 interceptions per game. Otherwise, experience reigns with Albiol, Piqué, and Ramos.
Midfielders: No Thiago (he ripped up his knee), but the Spanish midfield is loaded, highly-decorated…and in transition. Seven of the midfielders selected have been capped at least 60 times; two are have accrued over 100 caps. This is likely the final World Cup for the vaunted XavIniesta duo (224 caps between them), and Xabi Alonso is 32 with 109 caps. Santi Cazorla is 29, and David Silva is 28, and there’s talk that the former will not make the final squad. But there is no shortage of hope on the horizon. Juan Mata, who just turned 26, will be looking to put a dreary campaign split between Chelsea and Manchester United behind him–assuming he makes the final cut. Ander Iturraspe, 25, was a most interesting selection; Bilbao’s excellent young holding mid is a long-ball specialist, won 54% of his aerial duels this term, and averaged two clearances, two interceptions, and two tackles per contest. Finally, Koke, 22, is the undisputed future superstar of the Spanish midfield; he accrued six goals and 13 assists for Liga champions Atlético. Plus, Thiago will be healthy in 2018. Probably. Hopefully. Definitely 2016, however.
Strikers: Diego Costa’s health is a storyline among the striker corps. The Brazilian-turned-Spaniard limped off after 14 minutes at Barcelona over the weekend, and his tender hamstring is a bit concerning for Del Bosque ahead of the tournament’s start on 12 June. However, playing in the Champions League final this weekend could alleviate those concerns. Elsewhere, this is an aging group of strikers. Unlike the midfield, which is in transition, Spain’s group of strikers is not in such a period and is its greatest weakness heading into the 2014 World Cup. Fernando Llorente (five goals in his final six matches with Juve this term) is fine, Álvaro Negredo is fine, Pedro is fine. But Fernando Torres is clearly in decline, and David Villa, despite his best efforts (see below), hasn’t scored in over two months. All this means that Costa will be relied upon to finish in his first campaign for La Roja. However, due to that midfield, the pressure on this group of strikers may not be so high–and perhaps that’s a good thing. A lot of it really depends on who will be taken to Brazil.
Manager: Vicente Del Bosque is seeking to become the second coach with multiple World Cups to his name. The former Real Madrid boss would join Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo as the only men to have that distinction. Pozzo won his two World Cups in 1934 and 1938. Tactically speaking, I think we could see a healthy 4-5-1 dosage out of the Spaniards in Brazil.
Outlook: One of the favourites. Spain’s back line and midfield will have a nice mixture of experienced and youthful, and its midfield in particular is STACKED. But aside from Diego Costa, striker is an issue, although the strength in the midfield could negate Fernando Torres playing without feet. Very, very difficult to see Spain falling short of the final four, and I’d say there’s a decent chance it makes the final. A repeat, however? Those are hard to do.