Spain set sights on allaying World Cup heartache at Euro 2016
Lee Gormley | February 17, 2016
Can Spain reclaim international superiority?
Entering the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Vicente del Bosque’s Spain were on course to maintain their international dominance in the Samba heat, having become world champions in 2010 as well as enjoying dominant Euro 2008 and 2012 victories. But things certainly didn’t go to plan.
In their opening Group B encounter with the Netherlands, who they had overcome in extra-time to be crowned World Cup winners four years prior, the Spanish suffered a disastrous start, being demolished 5-1 to see their earlier superiority downed throughout a crushing 90 minutes.
Del Bosque’s men never recovered from their humbling, ultimately exiting at the group stage alongside Australia as their Dutch conquerors and a mercurial Chile outfit progressed, leaving the previous kings of international football dethroned and nursing their wounds.
Although, two years on, Del Bosque’s Furia Roja are on a destructive path towards avenging their World Cup heartache and banishing such damaging memories, having stormed to Euro 2016 with a solid qualifying campaign.
European glory is in their sights once again, so can Del Bosque end his esteemed Spain career with once last flourish? Odds of 9/2 from Coral suggest so.
Del Bosque rebuilding national pride
The Spain squads that reigned supreme from 2008 to 2012 are widely considered to be some of the greatest international sides in history, alongside the likes of the Netherlands in 1980 and 1970’s Brazil.
Their Euro 2012 success saw them become the first ever team to win three successive international tournaments, until the Dutch derailed the Spanish triumph train in Brazil, but Del Bosque is well on his way to reinstilling national pride.
In what the prestigious coach has confirmed will be his final tournament as Spanish boss, the 65-year-old will look to end his trophy-laden reign in typically successful fashion, after an impressive qualifying campaign.
The defending European champions earned a spot in this summer’s event by finishing atop Group C, suffering just a single slip-up to eventual second-placed Slovakia, rattling in an emphatic 23 goals and conceding just three throughout proceedings.
Such rampant form has seen Spain regain some of their supreme aura and fear factor but, after a group featuring seemingly minimal challenges, tournament hosts France (11/4 favourites), world champions Germany (10/3) and Belgium (12/1) look their most threatening rivals for summer success.
Seemingly favourable group boosts prospects
After blitzing their qualifying campaign, Del Bosque now has his sights on another supreme summer of silverware success, emulating their 2008 and 2012 glories, with a favourable Group D draw boosting such prospects.
The back-to-back European champions have been placed alongside the Czech Republic, Turkey and Croatia, a talented bunch of sides, but ones that Spain should be able to overcome on French soil come June.
The Czechs prevailed from Group A as impressive table-toppers and will provide some threat to the Spanish, while Turkey also came from this testing group as the best third-placed team throughout qualifying.
In Croatia, Spain face an outfit that could easily become a surprise package this summer, having finished narrowly behind Italy in qualifying, and Ante Cacic’s talented set-up are 7/2 second-favourites to secure top spot in Group D.
Spanish squad boasts wealth of talent
Del Bosque may have lost several important figureheads from his previous successful squads, with the likes of Marcos Senna, Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez and David Villa having all retired throughout the years, but the Spaniard possesses a great balance of experience and youth in his current crop.
The Spanish still hold plenty of stars that will remember the pain of their World Cup exit in 2014, while fresh faces will bring a wealth of quality to the ranks, with Iker Casillas, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets all now the wiser players.
Among the experience and youth vying for places at Euro 2016, Man Utd’s acrobatic stopper David de Gea will surely warrant a starting spot, while Valencia prospect Paco Alcacer shone in qualifying and looks like a future international star. Real Madrid playmaker Isco will also play his part, contesting David Silva, Juan Mata and Jesus Navas for relished creative role places.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich maestro Thiago Alcantara has shown his class, but only in glimpses, with Juventus frontman Alvaro Morata maybe lacking the club game-time needed to propel him into Del Bosque’s initial starting line-up.
Diego Costa is another that will need to perform to his best to banish memories of Brazil’s failures, with the recently rejuvenated Chelsea striker having previously buckled under the pressure of featuring for his chosen country in the nation of his birth two years ago.
“Nobody is guaranteed a place here”
One key aspect of Del Bosque’s latest crop of players will be the decision to cast long-serving stopper Casillas or Manchester United’s heroic De Gea as his number one. Based on form, and what the fans expect, there is clearly only one winner, and the Spanish boss has dismissed claims that Casillas is untouchable, after the Porto keeper’s decline in recent years.
“Nobody is guaranteed a place here. We have players in mind, but there is no definitive list. Not until May 17th, when we hand in the list. That will be the day when people find out. Let’s hope we get it right with most of them,” stated Del Bosque.
“Will Casillas be there or not? I hope so. But there are still some months left and we will act as we see fit. But [if he’s there it will be] because of his prestige, his career, what he means for the national team and because he plays for a big club.
“He hasn’t stopped playing and he’s not inactive. He’s playing. And I speak about Casillas because you asked me about him, but not because he is any different to any other players in other teams.”
Skipper Iniesta backs third successive crown
With the departure of legendary former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi, his long-standing club and international teammate Iniesta has since taken over captain duties at the Nou Camp but is sure his country can reign supreme again at Euro 2016, despite changes in personnel.
“We’re looking forward to having a good European Championship and getting close to that objective,” declared Iniesta.
“I think we’ve got the squad to do it. Like everything else in life, the national team has been through changes. We’re looking to play a positive game and get the fans right behind us again.”
With doubts still hanging over Spain’s ability to recover from their World Cup nightmare at Euro 2016, a strong qualifying campaign helped eased any fears of a repeat scenario, but Del Bosque will desperately desire a third straight European crown in order to bow out on a triumphant high and reinstate his side as international football kingpins.