As defending champions and many people’s favourites to retain their European crown, Spain head into Euro 2012 under strength. When I say under strength, I don’t mean it on England-scale proportions but just that key men, Carlos Puyol and David Villa are absent. Add to that the pressure of holding the ‘favourites tag’ and playing against 10 man defences and this particular tournament could be Spain’s greatest triumph yet.
Historically a well-endowed position for Spain, the current triad of shot stoppers would easily grace any other national team in the world and make the number 1 jersey their own. Iker Casillas heads the group, as he has done for what seems an eternity, and also leads the whole nation, wearing the captains’ armband with pride. Skipper for the previous two triumphant tournaments, his position will come under little scrutiny despite the outstanding candidates behind him in Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina. Extraordinarily, Valdes has played just 7 times for his country behind Casillas’ astonishing 127 appearances. And Ben Foster feels hard done by…
Similarly, the headlines concerning the Spanish squad have focused predominantly on the missing central defender and absent striker. Carlos Puyol sadly had to withdraw from the squad a couple of weeks ago due to a heavy metal tour an injury despite having a dominant season at the back with Barcelona. His presence and organisation of the back four will be a great loss to Spain who will need to re-think their defence. Gerard Pique and another will more than likely begin against Italy in Gdansk which could mean reverting Sergio Ramos to the centre from right-back. If not, Javi Martinez or Raul Albiol will receive their chance to impress Vicente del Bosque, who experimented with Ramos and Albiol in the friendly against Serbia, though Martinez and Pique were both on Copa del Rey duty.
Jordi Alba appears to be Spain’s future left back after some confident and attacking displays in his early international career. A starting role in his first major tournament will be a test of discipline for the youngster who does love to bomb forwards regularly. On the opposing side, Alvaro Arbeloa and Juanfran will profit if Ramos is converted to centre-back and are both apt replacements, Arbeloa more so considering his international experience.
Spain favours a five man midfield and has a mouth-watering array of worthy candidates to select from. Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso will command the centre of the park and drop deep, attack, spray passes and drift into awkward positions where they’re difficult to defend. Teams will defend deep and we have seen it prove difficult for Spain to break down such stubborn defences, which is where their wide men come in. David Silva, Juan Mata, Jesus Navas, Santi Cazorla or Barcelona’s Pedro are all outstanding wingers who can give any full back the run around and create chances aplenty. Del Bosque has a difficult but enviable task in selecting his starting two.
Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas might force their way into the team as the competition progresses and are more than able to add to the immense talent of the Spanish national squad. Lest we forget it was Fabregas who laid on Iniesta’s winner in South Africa. Since living his dream and joining Barcelona, he has scored freely and will add to the telepathic synchronisation between the Barcelona spine of the Spanish national squad.
Including Fernando Torres in the squad has proved a controversial decision across Europe as no one knows just how he will perform in the next game. Less prolific than Gylfi Sigurdsson in twice as many league games, Torres has struggled massively in his time at Chelsea and had been dropped from the Spanish squad for the friendly with Venezuela in February. Adding to the risky nature of his inclusion is that David Villa is absent through injury and Roberto Soldado, with 27 goals this season, misses out as a result. A Champions League win and a morale-propelling draw against Barcelona, in which Torres scored, could boost his confidence but sadly without Paul the Octopus, no one will really know how he will do until he runs out for La Roja in Poland.
Among the others selected, Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente will be relishing his opportunity to shine if he is ahead of Torres in the pecking order. Fatigue from a marathon season as a lone striker could set him and Spain back however with only Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo and Pedro as alternative centre forward choices.