Spain have a strong recent history in international football, with success coming their way at Euro 08, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. The reigning champions of Europe could well be expected to put on a good show in France, but they are not automatically assured of doing so – not if the previous World Cup is anything to go by.
Spain went out of Brazil 2014 following a 5-1 hammering in their opening game against Holland, and a 2-0 defeat to Chile in their next fixture, which left them unable to get out of the group stages. For a team that brims with experience and talent, this was a horror story, and two years on, they will be anxious to avoid a repeat.
So, who will Spain look at to deliver the goods?
In goal they boast one of the most experienced and highly rated ‘keepers in the world – Iker Casillas. At the time of writing this he has 166 caps for his country, and is also the captain. A veteran of Real Madrid (having left to join Porto at the start of this season), Casillas brims with an understanding of the game at the highest level.
His chief understudy is David De Gea, currently at Manchester United and admired by Real. De Gea has often been the vital difference for an indifferent United and whilst he only has 8 caps, it’s inevitable that he will earn more.
Defensively Spain once again possess a lot of experience. Sergio Ramos has 131 caps, whilst Gerard Piqué has played 76 times for his country, and Jordi Alba has featured 42 times. A number of players have earned caps as Spain seek to broaden their pool of players with international experience, but these three are likely to be the key ones in their back line at the Euros.
It’s in midfield though, that Spain have an embarrassment of riches. Players like Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fàbregas (all Barcelona players) and David Silva all have over eighty caps at least, with Fàbregas and Iniesta both with over 100 caps. Their experience – especially playing alongside one another at club level – has given Spain an invaluable platform of creative talent and midfield strength – there are also players like Juan Mata, Koke and Isco, who are all getting more experience all the time.
Up front, Spain have struggled. Their World Cup success in 2010 was built on a number of 1-0 wins that didn’t really see much attacking intent from their strikers, with notable hot and cold forwards like Diego Costa and Fernando Torres failing to deliver. Pedro has scored 16 times in 56 games – not an especially spectacular strike rate – Valencia youngster Paco Alcácer might be one to watch (assuming he makes the squad), as he has six goals in 13 games for Spain.
I don’t think Spain will win the tournament. They have some fine players and more importantly, players who are used to working together, but their lack of flexibility and emerging talent caught up to them in Brazil, when they were badly beaten by the Dutch, a result that rocked them and left them unable to lift themselves before a do or die clash with Chile. I would fully expect them to reach at least the quarter-finals, but they are unlikely to go much further.