Spain still show soccer strength with six sides sizing Europe
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | March 24, 2016
June 13, 2014; the day tiki taka died, or so it seemed as the Netherlands smashed then reigning world and European champions Spain.
That 5-1 Dutch demolition of La Roja in Brazil was billed by many pundits and commentators, swept along by an incredible result, as such.
And how did Spanish soccer respond last season? Its top two exponents of European club football in modern times, Barcelona and Sevilla, scooped yet more continental competition honours.
This term’s Champions League and Europa League enter their respective quarter-finals in April, and the predominant flavour of both remains the same. Spain has three clubs still standing in each competition.
Granted, at least one will bow out of both as all-Spanish clashes between Barca and Atletico Madrid and Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao are coming up, but that guarantees semi-final presences.
Real Madrid – the 10-time champions of Europe – and plucky but passionately supported Villarreal are the other two. Half a dozen Spanish sides playing at the business end of continental competition must surely be a good thing for national coach Vicente Del Bosque.
Let’s not forget Spain are still reigning European Champions in international football, and Coral’s 9/2 third-favourites to retain that trophy at the Euro 2016 finals in neighbouring France this summer.
Just nine of Del Bosque’s latest squad play abroad, two-thirds of which come from the Premier League. Those numbers do not include uncapped Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin, who must be hammering on the door to play at right back for La Roja long-term, and Brazil-born Chelsea striker Diego Costa.
Aduriz endurance pays off
He has been overlooked on this occasion for Euro 2016 warm-up friendlies against Italy and Romania in favour of the evergreen Aritz Aduriz, who scored against the former on his full international debut. Now 35, this brilliant Basque frontman has been in blistering form for Bilbao.
Age is no barrier for Aduriz, who has broken the 30-goal barrier, eclipsing his career-best campaign which was only last season.
It’s an unwritten rule that great Spanish teams need a Basque Country native for a cult hero; look no further than Andoni Zubizarreta, Joseba Etxeberria and Fernando Llorente for evidence supporting this assertion.
Aduriz, who leads the Europa League scoring charts with eight goals in that continental competition, would not be the first veteran stager up front to grace a major international football tournament. Look at Miroslav Klose’s effectiveness for Germany at World Cups!
Del Bosque’s inclusion of Aduriz is a sign the Spain boss is seriously considering taking him to the Euros. His maturity compliments the youth of Valencia prodigy Paco Alcacer and rangy Juventus forward Alvaro Morata as central striking options nicely.
Nifty Nolito and guileful Gaspar
Bilbao are not the only provincial Spanish side to have representation on this latest La Roja roster, though. If you’ve gone to Galicia to play Celta Vigo in La Liga over these last couple of years and lost, then late-blooming winger Nolito probably had something to do with it.
Although he failed to make the grade at Valencia as a youngster and simply could not breakthrough into Barcelona’s first XI despite decent B team numbers from the flanks, Nolito needs just one more goal to have broken double figures in three successive seasons at Celta.
Vigo is practically in Portugal, and its peripheral nature to the rest of Spain has allowed the club to turn itself into a fortress where visiting teams dread going.
Turning attention back to Bellerin, the Gunners attacking outlet is behind Villarreal counterpart Mario Gaspar, who had viewers of the end of year England friendly in Spain gasping with an absolutely stunning strike, in the Spain pecking order.
Nicknamed the Yellow Submarine, the El Madrigal outfit have past European pedigree under a certain Manuel Pellegrini, who steered their Juan Roman Riquelme vintage to a Champions League semi-final.
Villarreal lost to Arsenal then a decade ago, but now – in this individual battle at least – the roles are reversed.
Fresh faces from El Clasico
Versatile Barcelona player Sergi Roberto gets a maiden senior call from Del Bosque after filling in various gaps at the Nou Camp this term. Catalan giants coach Luis Enrique has used yet another La Masia academy graduate at full back as well as in familiar midfield roles.
Utility man Roberto makes up for Andres Iniesta’s absence, but La Roja’s centurion and 2010 World Cup final scorer will be back in time for one more tournament at the Euros.
From one fringe player in the El Clasico duopoly that underpins the zenith of Spanish football to another – in the form of Real defender Nacho Fernandez.
He and Barca counterpart Marc Bartra are very much the understudies to Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique both for club and country.
Sevilla set to sustain success
Spain’s reserve goalie Sergio Rico, meanwhile, is the sole representative in their squad from Sevilla, who are looking to win a third successive Europa League crown.
Although Borussia Dortmund remain firm favourites to pull the plug on the Bathtubs in this regard, Unai Emery’s Seville side are 11/2 to land that Europa hat-trick.
Built on a combination of domestic players, continental and South American imports, the Sevilla of today has strong Argentine, French and Portuguese presences among their ranks.
With midfield marshalled by uncompromising Poland anchorman Grzegorz Krychowiak and the creative spark coming from Ukraine international Yevhen Konoplyanka, the Bathtubs’ cosmopolitan feel is in keeping with the history of Andalusia.
Many wondered how Emery would maintain Sevilla once star striker Carlos Bacca was sold to AC Milan but, although they dropped out of the Champions League, they remain the experts in Europe’s secondary continental competition.
Watershed for Spanish this summer
Nine Euro 2012 winners remain on the Spain national roster – that figure will rise to a dozen if Iniesta, Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets and Santi Cazorla all return as expected – going into the defence of their crown.
This European Championship is the end of an era. Del Bosque is retiring whatever happens, and there are set to be as many allusions to Spain’s past as their future at the France finals.
What foundations this old master can lay for La Roja of tomorrow will be just as important as his faith in established internationals that the wider football world knows all about ahead of Euro 2016.
Check out Coral’s international football section for all the latest in the build-up to the Euros.
Our La Liga page is also worth a look!