Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain and Roberto Soldado have only 24 international caps between them, yet with David Villa on the treatment table and Fernando Torres and Pedro enduring torrid seasons, these three must be ready to be called upon to join David Silva and Juan Mata in Spain’s Euro 2012 front line. Probably not exactly household names for most, they soon will be if they shine in Poland and Ukraine. Let’s run the rule over the pretenders to La Roja’s attack.
There are those who might deem Fernando Llorente to be somewhat of a slow burner. After all, the Athletic Bilbao centre forward is 27 and is yet to have that career-boosting big break. It could be fast approaching, however. That exquisite volley against Manchester United would suggest that Llorente is a very special footballer indeed.
Whilst 111 goals in 287 appearances for Bilbao may not be seen as amazing necessarily, he does a lot more than simply put the ball in the back of the net – although 27 goals in 44 games this season is certainly impressive for someone plying his trade at one of La Liga’s middling clubs.
At 6-foot-5 and brimming with strength, he is not to be taken lightly and defenders hate having to face him. These attributes make him incredibly effective at holding the ball up in the final third and his team-mates are all too willing to feed off him. If he transfers this to the national side, he could prove to be the ultimate utility man for Vicente del Bosque’s men come June.
Iker Muniain is very much the new kid on the block as far as the Spanish national set-up is concerned. This tricky little left winger has only represented Spain once at senior level. In fact, he has a mere 20 minutes of action under his belt in the red shirt. But at the age of 19, any international experience has to be highly commended.
What is most impressive is the fact that he has played 92 times in La Liga. Just 17 when he made his debut in the Primera División, he has not looked back since, his silky skills leading to him being compared to the likes of Lionel Messi and linked to giants of European football such as Liverpool. He is another member of the exceptional footballing establishment that is Athletic Bilbao and came to the fore in those clashes with United, scoring at Old Trafford. Muniain has been working his magic for some time in Spain.
Now it is time for him to transfer his armoury of skills to a much bigger stage with his country this summer. Del Bosque must give this fine prospect the opportunity he deserves. As arguably the hottest Spanish winger of the moment, his contribution from wide could be vital to Spain’s ability to find the net at the Euros.
The final component in this new attacking army is Roberto Soldado. No, I hadn’t heard of him either until recently. After all, Osasuna and Getafe rarely steal the limelight that belongs to Real Madrid and Barcelona. Now of Valencia, he is yet another surprise package to emerge from the premier footballing nation in the world today.
Down and out when sent packing by Madrid four years ago, he has had to work harder than most to get to where he finds himself today. After a two season stint at Getafe between 2008 and 2010, Valencia saw enough promise in a then 24-year-old Soldado.
A consistent record of a goal every other game earned him his €10 million move to the Mestalla, where his already laudable goals to games ratio has improved. He racked up 25 goals in all competitions last season and has surpassed that this time around. He is a worthy rival to Fernando Llorente for that centre forward position when the Spanish step out onto the pitch in Gdańsk to face Italy in their Group C opener.
So, there’s the lowdown on a trio who could make or break Spain’s quest to retain their European Championship crown. Keep a very close eye on them this summer.