Despite a disastrous World Cup, Spain played their first competitive game since failing miserably in Brazil by defending their European Championships crown. Vicente del Bosque fielded a side vastly different from the World Cup as retirements and injuries kept those who had represented Spain during their golden era out.
There was a modicum of pressure on some of the players ahead of the home qualifier against Macedonia, especially as Spain had lost to France in a friendly beforehand, but the side stood up to the test in a half-empty Ciutat de Valencia stadium to win 5-1.
Of those new players, Valencia’s Paco Alcacer was given a starting role up front, and scored to make his full debut more memorable. Barcelona duo Marc Bartra and Munir also appeared as substitutes as del Bosque infused his side with more youth as the qualification period got underway.
Whilst the squad wasn’t Spain’s strongest due to injuries, it gave an impression as to who VDB thinks he can rely on, and who has the potential to follow the previous generation of world beaters.
Part of the World Cup squad but one of those who weren’t shamed, Koke leads the newest crop of Spanish youngsters having been in the team for well over a year. He was selected to play in the centre of midfield with VDB eyeing his energy alongside Sergio Busquets. Koke was guilty of a rash challenge against Macedonia, though the added bite will stop teams doing similarly to prevent Spain’s passing game. Barcelona wanted Koke for €60 million this summer and he will surely prove why in a Spain shirt soon.
Of the array of Spanish strikers that were available to VDB, Alcacer was a surprise selection ahead of Fernando Llorente and Roberto Soldado. Even Aritz Aduriz was worthy of a call up, but the Spain boss has signalled his intent by naming the youngster to start on Monday evening. Given time in the national team, Alcacer can develop into one of Europe’s top strikers, following the likes of Fernando Torres and David Villa as trophy winning national team strikers.
It was a big call to go with Casillas over David de Gea, but the Spain skipper decided to face his critics and del Bosque seems to have the same level of faith in his keeper. Brazil 2014 was surely Casillas’ lowest ebb, but a starting position at Real Madrid this season could bring him back into form. The mistakes will have to stop soon with de Gea breathing down his neck, but with Casillas’ experience, Spain’s less experienced players will look to him as an example.
Injured for the Macedonia game, but the Chelsea striker looks to be first choice for VDB when full fit. His style arguably conflicts with Spain’s passing system, but he has shown capable touches during his short period in the Premier League that he can adapt. At just 25, Costa has plenty of time to change the general public’s perception of him as the spearhead of the national team, but he has a proper chance to impress with the next major tournament just under two years away.
Unlucky to be left out of the World Cup squad, Isco has been dealt more bad news since then with the domestic arrivals at Real Madrid. Isco’s potential should mean he is starting games in La Liga on a weekly basis, but fleeting substitute appearances will have to make do for now. Nevertheless, Isco has shown what he can do for Madrid last season, and he could become a vibrant addition to the Spanish setup with his dribbling and quick passing. He’s a traditional tiki-taka player, and to watch him alongside Iniesta would produce fireworks.
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