The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so goes the saying, one that applies, in spades, for Spain. Indeed, a lot has changed for La Furia Roja in the three years since winning the FIFA World Cup in 2010, but the tiki-taka fuelled side continues to dominate in the international scene.
It’s just the one major loss to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final that stains an otherwise squeaky-clean record attained during the World Cup qualifying round, where Spain went 6-2-0 in their group, drawing twice but remaining lossless throughout.
Yet the nature of the national team has changed, and with it, a new crop of players have made their way to the forefront under Vicente Del Bosque. Gone are the days of the Real Madrid-Barcelona split that made up the national team; the roster now includes numerous faces from clubs around the country and around the world.
Can Spain win the World Cup again? That’s the question Del Bosque will have to answer come summer next year.
Taking a look at the players at his disposal, one thing is clear: Spain’s starting XI, historically difficult to pick, has not been made any easier to choose.
The old guard up top remains available, though to be fair, they look a shadow of their former selves: David Villa, once Barcelona’s prized forward, now haunts the halls of the Estadio Vicente Calderon; Fernando Torres has been through the ups-and-downs of life at Chelsea; Pedro is battling a spot at Barca with Neymar and Alexis Sanchez, two players of a higher quality than he.
The next generation of forwards remain unproven, too. Roberto Soldado is having a torrid time at Tottenham as of late, although the Valencia captain is capable of leading the line when in form; Alvaro Negredo is of an obvious quality but in a Manchester City side filled with talent, he’s found it difficult to secure a starting spot; the same can be said of Jesus Navas, his club teammate, who is strong on the wing but not playing regularly enough.
The only player in-form at the moment is Diego Costa. The Brazilian-born Atletico Madrid forward has scored goals for fun this season, and committed himself to Spain a couple months ago. Though he is without experience at the international level, he may get the call come World Cup time.
A strong pair of forwards is crucial for many sides, but Spain is no stranger to a striker-less formation. A comedic 4-6-0 formation during the 2012 UEFA Euro Cup bore fruit in the end, when Spain ran off with the title despite utilizing a false nine and playing two attacking midfielders out wide. David Silva and Juan Mata will be crucial for Spain in the World Cup.
The midfield remains unchanged, despite the fact that Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta have added a few years of footballing hardships to their legs. The two are undisputed starters in Spain’s line up. However, Cesc Fabregas, Javi Martinez, Isco, Mata, Silva, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets will all try to stake their claim in the starting line up, too.
Del Bosque is gifted with a plethora of starting-quality midfielders, almost unprecedented in the game, and how he manages all this talent may just make the difference for Spain.
Competition for space has been a theme throughout Spain’s rise to the top, and you don’t need to look much further than between the posts to see it: Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes are the obvious picks. The former is the team captain, but the latter has played more regularly.
Meanwhile, the backline remains Spain’s most unproven; a new crop of fullbacks in Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba play contrast to the now-established duo of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos in the middle. Carles Puyol is now a player of the past.
Many of the faces are familiar, but, really, it comes to down the next-gen of Spain, who need to step up and prove they can be World Cup champions, too. Azpilicueta, Alba, Isco, Javi Martinez, Pedro, Navas and Negredo have to prove they have the quality to step into the line up without disruption.
They won’t have much time to prove it, either; Spain was placed in a difficult Group B alongside the Netherlands, Chile and Australia. Mistakes in the early stages can and will be punished.
So, with a new crop of players, can Spain retain the World Cup crown in 2014, and become the first European country to win on South American soil?
It’s certainly possible. Spain has faced and beaten the best and continue to be one of the most dominant sides in football. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily), Spain can only meet Brazil in the final and not in-between, meaning their greatest adversaries cannot knock them out without a dramatic finale finish.
Favourites once more and with a new generation of players, Spain remains a side capable of delivering wins with style. This next World Cup will define the Spanish era; a win again and this team will be written definitively in football legend; a listless loss, and perhaps we have seen the downfall of the Spanish reign.
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