Spain remain many people’s tip to win next year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil, despite the tough group they were handed in December’s draw. The question is; can Spain retain their world crown and win their fourth major title in a row?
Their opponents in Group B are Netherlands, Chile and Australia. As I said, a tough group. Australia are not good at all, and will likely lose all three matches, but as for the other two, it couldn’t have been much harder if you tried! Chile destroyed England in a recent friendly at Wembley, and while Spain are on another level to England, they will still find Alexis Sanchez and co a tough opponent. And we all know the history with Netherlands…
The sequence in which Spain will play their matches couldn’t be harder either. They will start this World Cup the same way they ended the last; by playing Netherlands. Then come Chile, and finally Australia. This could be viewed a couple of ways. Some people may feel that a good win against Australia to start would get the campaign off to a great start and be a platform on which to build. I look at it this way, though: Chile and Netherlands will have to face each other in what will probably be a winner takes all final match in Sao Paulo, while Spain can (hopefully) ease their way to victory against Australia and win the group.
Having said that, those first two games are going to be awfully tough. The one saving grace, though, could be that both Chile and Netherlands are likely to play an attacking brand of football themselves, which should allow for some fantastic games of football for us fans to gorge on. And more importantly, could play right into Spain’s hands, allowing them to express their passing game and pick off their opponents.
Top spot is the only position any of the three teams will be looking at, so defensive football shouldn’t be at the forefront. Goals are what are required to progress, as the likely “prize” for the second placed team is a match with hosts Brazil. That’s assuming Brazil top Group A, which is very tough in its own right. Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon are the teams you would assume will be vying for runners-up spot, and thus a meeting with the winners from Spain’s group. Now, Del Bosque’s team should be able to see off any of those sides, but finish second and face Brazil? That’s an entirely different proposition.
It won’t be an easy path to the final for Spain, no matter whether they finish first or second. Finish first and it would prolong the really top teams until Argentina or Germany would be the likely opposition in the semi final, before a meeting with Brazil in the final. If they did finish second and then get past Brazil in the round of 16, it would actually be potentially a decent path to the final. The hardest opposition would likely be the likes of England, Portugal and France. All teams that Spain would not fear too much. That would lead to a potential showdown with Argentina, Germany, or even a rematch with Netherlands in the final.
As for the players, I think we will see a number of relatively inexperienced (at international level) players in the squad. The likes of Thiago Alcantara, Isco and Inigo Martinez should all be on the plane, whilst the as yet uncapped Diego Costa is a certainty if he keeps his incredible form going right through the second half of the season. Unfortunately, it does seem as if Carles Puyol is finally getting ready to admit defeat in his struggles with a knee injury, which could see him retire at season’s end. Add to that Xavi’s increasing fragility and Iker Casillas not playing at Real, and there are suddenly some gaps to fill. Thiago in particular is impressing with his performances for Bayern Munchen in the Bundesliga, while La Real’s centre back Inigo Martinez is having a great season too, and could well be at Real Madrid or (hopefully!) Barcelona by the time the World Cup kicks off.
For their recent friendlies against Equatorial Guinea and South Africa, Del Bosque’s twenty two man squad included sixteen players under the age of thirty, and seven who were twenty five or under (although Juan Mata will turn twenty six before the tournament begins). However the squad they picked, while strong, didn’t include the likes of Pique, Fabregas, David Silva, Diego Costa, David de Gea, Jordi Alba, Thiago, Roberto Soldado and many more who would walk into most national squads. That is a truly frightening prospect! And that doesn’t even take into account the strength of the Under 21′s and younger. Make no mistake, Spain are here to stay as a force in international football.
The big thing for Del Bosque will be timing; knowing just when to usher some of the older guys aside and bring in the new blood. Brazil 2014 is an ideal time to start, but not on a wholesale scale. It’s a wonderful problem to have, and Spain are extremely lucky to have the exact manager they need to do just that. After all, he’s been in charge now since 2008, and has had to make big decisions regarding personnel before. The fact he has signed on until after the 2016 European Championships in France is a clear sign that he knows that the Spanish national team still has a lot to offer, and is not going to fade any time soon.
Which is very worrying for the rest of us!
Can they win it?
In a word, yes. Of course they can. They have one of the top two or three squads in the world, if not the absolute best. In fact, when you look at the quality of players they can call up as replacements, maybe only Germany can rival them in terms of the talent pool at their disposal.
So, yes. Of course they can win it. At the end of the day, I don’t think it will matter if they finish first or second, or if they subsequently play Brazil in the second round or the final. Spain have got everything in place to win this tournament. They have the established manager in place who has won everything and is still hungry for more, hence his new contract. They have the big game experience, and the patience and belief to keep playing their style of football, even when faced with a ten man defence. And most of all, they have the players. Del Bosque could, quite simply, be going to Brazil armed with his best squad ever. A mix of the experienced guys who have won it all, and the enthusiastic new generation, eager to learn from their elders and replicate their success.
It promises to be a great tournament, and maybe we will see La Furia Roja crowned World Champions once again.