Will Spain write history?
The Spanish Armada were looted in the Champions league semifinals. Can the La Furia Roja be stopped? Indranath Mukherjee presents their case for Euro 2012
France won the Euro 2000 after winning the 1998 FIFA world cup. Germany had won the World Cup in 1974 after winning the Euro 1972. Spain will look to defend the Euro title and thus create history by winning Euro before and after World Cup championship.
Although the Spanish clubs have won the European club championship most number of times (14), the national team has been a perennial under-achiever until recently. With players like Alfredo Di Stefano, Luis Suarez and Ladislao Kubala, Spain was a fabulous side in the very first edition of Euro (1960). But General Franco decided to withdraw the team for political reasons before their match against the eventual champion Soviet Union. Earlier they had defeated Poland 4-2 away (Di Stefano 2, Suarez 2) and 3-0 at home (Di Stefano, Gensana, Gento). In the next edition, they went on to win the championship after beating Soviet Union 2-1 in the final. It had been a wait for 44 years after that to win the championship again in 2008 under Luis Aragonés. Vicente del Bosque and his golden generation will certainly like to continue their dominance in the international scene now. King Juan Carlos gave the 61 year old manager the title of the 1st Marquis of Del Bosque last year in recognition of his achievements in leading La Roja to World Cup glory in South Africa. He has now gone public saying that he aims to follow in the footsteps of Helmut Schoen, the West German legend, to become only the second coach to win both the World Cup and the European Championship.
In the qualifiers for the 2012 campaign, Spain has won all of their eight games quite convincingly. However, in the international friendlies since the world cup, Spain has lost a few games: a 4-1 defeat to Argentina in September 2010 in Buenos Aires followed by a 4-0 defeat against Portugal in Lisbon in November 2010 and a 2-1 against Italy in Bari in August 2011. They have also drawn 2 international friendlies during this time, 1-1 against Mexico in August 2010 and 2-2 against Costa Rica in November 2011. But friendlies are friendlies; the teams typically play between their hectic club football schedule and the managers often use these games to try out new players and combinations.
The news of the knee surgery of Carles Puyol might be a little bit of dampener for Spain but the fact is Puyol is not getting any younger. And Spain has enough leadership mettle in the team in their captain Iker Casillas and the Barcelona talisman Xavi Hernández. Another big advantage is their manager; Del Bosque knows how to manage big stars in the dressing room since his days as the manager of Galacticos. He led the Madrid giants to seven titles, including two Champions League and two domestic league crowns. As the manager of the national team, he not only has inherited a bunch of fantastic football players, he has also grabbed the current playing style of Football Club Barcelona – “tiki-taka” (short passing, movement and keeping possession). Although the current Spanish side may not always look as sublime as Barcelona, Del Bosque’s side plays extremely effective football as we have seen in the World Cup in South Africa.
Del Bosque’s bigger worry however will be the condition of David Villa who had fractured his left tibia in Barcelona’s Club World Cup semi-final win over Al Sadd in Japan on December 15. ‘King David’ has not played any football since. He has recovered significantly but Del Bosque is in a serious selection dilemma: “We are on tenterhooks. We are worried because, of course, it is difficult for us to take someone who has not played one game.” Del Bosque will wait until May 27, two days ahead of the UEFA deadline, to have a look at Villa’s condition before announcing the final squad. It’s not easy to venture out to write history without someone who has scored 51 goals in 82 internationals. It’s even harder when Fernando Torres, in spite of scoring some goals of late, is not the same footballer any more. The form of Pedro Rodríguez has been so abysmal this season that he might not get picked up in the final squad by Del Bosque. In a situation like this, the striker who may emerge as the star of Spain and the Euro 2012 is Fernando Llorente. He scored critical goals for Spain in the qualifiers against Lithuania (2) and Scotland (1) and has been in good form this season scoring 28 goals in all competitions for Athletic Bilbao.
Spain got two friendlies coming up against Serbia (May 26) and South Korea (May 30) before the team travels to Poland and Ukraine and Del Bosque is planning to use these two games to try out some new faces like Juanfran Torres, Alvaro Dominguez, Adrián Lopez (all from the Europa League champions Atletico Madrid), Javi García (Benfica), Beñat (Betis), Bruno (Villarreal) and Isco (Malaga). Del Bosque hasn’t called anyone from the clubs which will feature in the Copa del Rey final.. From these clubs, Llorente and the Barcelona gang consisting of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets are almost certain to find their place to the final squad. Real Madrid already has five representatives in the list. Centre-back Raul Albiol may seem to be a surprise selection, but he will try to convince the boss that he can take the place of Puyol.
Spain will probably play with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Busquets and Xabi Alonso holding the midfield while Xavi, Iniesta and David Silva will take more creative roles for someone like Llorente upfront. Fabregas could bring in further creativity in the mix with Silva going a bit forward. Add to this, the exemplary positional sense of Busquets and Alonso will ensure that Spain will never struggle to create opportunities; whether the likes of Llorente, Torres or Soldado grab them will be interesting to see. They will surely miss the experience of Puyol at the back but Del Bosque should be able to come up with the right combination from the likes of Gerard Piqué, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Raul Albiol and Jordi Alba, the young left back from Valencia.
The final 23-man squad is expected to get announced on May 27th and might have new faces but the starting 11 will mostly have the usual suspects. They have chosen the facility at Schruns in Austria to prepare from May 22 to 31, the same venue they used before the 2010 World Cup finals.
Spain will start their Euro 2012 campaign with the Group C match against Italy on June 10, before taking on Republic of Ireland and Croatia. If they can start in a winning note, topping the group will become a formality. Assuming that to be the case, they will face the runner up of group D in the quarter-final. England or Sweden whoever it is should be an easy game for Spain. From semi-final, we may expect to see a repeat of the 2010 FIFA World Cup fixture with Germany and Netherlands as the respective opponents. Spain would love to repeat the world cup performance against Germany in Poland and Ukraine and defend their Euro title. If they are able to do so, this will be the 3rd Euro trophy in the national team’s cabinet, and they will become the first nation to win three straight major tournaments.