Spain may not be the bookies’ favourite but have shown enough class to suggest they cant be written off, writes Mogamed Allie in SoccerClub.
Spain’s 6-1 demolition of Argentina, who were admittedly without Lionel Messi, in a friendly in March and their clinical World Cup qualifying campaign, which saw them win nine games out of 10, provides more than enough evidence that the 2010 champions are ready to reclaim their position at football’s top table.
As if Spain’s failure to defend their title four years ago after 5-1 and 2-0 losses to the Netherlands and Chile respectively, was not enough, their star fell even further when Italy dispatched them in the second round of Euro 2016.
It wasn’t just the loss of their world and continental crowns that rankled, but rather the limp fashion in which they surrendered that irked their admirers around the world. The team’s meltdown led to the inevitable departure of Vicente del Bosque, the man who led La Furia Roja to their first World Cup title in 2010 and followed it up by leading them to the Euro 2012 crown. It did, however, usher in a new era under Julen Lopetegui, who spent four seasons working with the country’s junior national teams.
A former Barcelona goalkeeper, Lopetegui has revitalised the squad by introducing exciting new talent, like Real Madrid starlets Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio, together with Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas, a player unrecognisable from the flop who was mocked at Liverpool in 2013.
Nine wins out of 10 in qualifying, including a 3-0 humiliation of three-time champions Italy, suggests La Furia Roja are a team to be taken seriously again. They are still a unit that thrives on technical excellence and their ability to move the ball with one touch at breakneck speed makes them dangerous opponents.
Granted, many of the key players in the Spain side that dominated world football between 2008 and 2012 are now in the twilight of their brilliant careers. Captain Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and David Silva are into their thirties, but their years of experience at the top of the game’s tree should stand exciting newcomers like Asensio (22), Isco (26) and Koke (26) in good stead.
They also have the world’s best goalkeeper in David de Gea, the elegant presence of Sergio Busquets and Thiago Alcantra in midfield, and the bustling, robust figure of the temperamental Diego Costa in attack.
If Lopetegui is able to successfully blend the old with the new, as he has already shown signs of doing over the
past 18 months, Spain will be a force to be reckoned with in Russia.
They also have a kind draw that should see them emerge unscathed from their group, which includes Portugal, Morocco and Iran, and then a possible second-round meeting against one of Egypt, Uruguay or hosts Russia. And once they reach
the quarter-finals, anything is possible.
– This article first appeared in the June issue of SoccerClub magazine
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