Team Preview – Spain

The current World Cup and European champions are competing in their 14th World Cup but despite their infinite wealth of talent, pundits aren’t so coy about the La Roja’s chances this time around due to their inability to “finish off” opponents. The Spanish went through European qualifying undefeated in a relatively simple Group I where the only threat was from a rebuilding French side.

They were drawn into a group that won’t be so straightforward with a 2010 World Cup final replay against the Dutch first up and matches against flair of Chile and the underdogs of Australia. The Spanish a blessed with a wealth of talent from La Liga as well as a sprinkle of English, Italian and German league stars.

This could be another successful tournament for Vicente del Bosque’s men as they aim to redeem themselves from defeat at the hands of Brazil in the 2013 Confederations Cup.

The Manager: Vicente del Bosque has been in charge of La Roja since 2008 and has managed the side to two European Championships and of course the World Cup in South Africa. The 2014 tournament could be the last for the 63 year old who has gone on record that his retirement isn’t in the distant future.

His impressive playing career which included 14 years at Real Madrid has been more than trumped by his managerial successes at the same club. del Bosque is a dominant figure and has done well to keep the long discussed divide between Real Madrid and Barcelona players at bay whilst implementing their most successful strategies of both sides. The former Besiktas manager is the only manager to have won a Euros, World Cup and Champions League.

Star Player:  In a team littered with stars, Barcelona number 8, Andres Iniesta stands above them all. The 30 year old has already amassed 6 La Liga titles, 2 Copa del Reys, 3 Champions League, 2 Supercups, 2 Club World Cups, 2 European Championships and a World Cup trophy which was won thanks to a dramatic 116th minute winner by the pint sized maestro.

Many comparisons are made between Iniesta and his club captain Xavi and whilst the later will go down as Spain’s greatest ever player, Iniesta would now be the more influential on the field. Vincent del Bosque described Iniesta as “the complete footballer. He can attack and defend, he creates and scores goals”. His ability has earned him many a nickname including the Illusionist and the Anti-Galactico.

If Spain are to become the first European nation to win a World Cup in the America’s, it is the 5ft7 Iniesta that will be needing to call the shots and don’t be too surprised if the dramatics of Soccer City in 2010 repeat.

Players to watch

Fernando Torres:  The much maligned Chelsea striker has a more than impressive record for his national team. The 30 year old forward has 107 caps with a neat 37 goals having scored freely for Spain despite his struggles for his club.

Torres was the top scorer at last years Confederations Cup which included a four goal haul against Tahiti as well as winning the Golden Boot at the 2012 Euros. He has been showed the faith by his national manager on many occasions and he is yet to disappoint on the international stage and with the hamstring worries of teammate Diego Costa, Torres’ role in the side could be vital if they are to mount a title defence.

Koke:  The 22 year old Atletico Madrid midfielder has only 7 caps for Spain but an impressive season has seen him make the final cut ahead of the likes of Isco, Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo.

Koke was a key player in Spain’s under 21 European Championship victory in 2013 where he was named in the team of the tournament and he will hope to get an opportunity to show his talents in Brazil. If Koke I able to leave his mark on a few matches at this years World Cup, the rumours mill will go into overdrive on his speculated move to Manchester United.

Cesar Azpilicueta: The former Marseille man really impressed me for Chelsea this season. His natural fullback position is on the right however he was often used on the left in which he managed the keep England veteran, Ashley Cole out of the side for a majority of the season.

Has a knack for causing havoc with pacey overlaps with the added ability of delivering a killer cross into the box, the 24 year Azpilicueta could be the extra dimension that del Bosque uses to break open defences.

The Draw:

14th June v Netherlands (5am AET)

19th June v Chile (5am)

24th June v Australia (2am)

Previous best and Prediction

Before winning the 2010 World Cup, Spain were considered international football’s biggest underachievers. Now though they will be a strong bet to defend their crown. I expect them to top this group with a perfect 9 points before being drawn against the runner up in Group A which could be anyone of Croatia, Mexico or Cameroon, all of which you would expect La Roja to beat. I have them making it to the tournament semi finals, just falling short of winning the World Cup back to back.

World Cup Record:

56 matches 28 wins 12 draws 16 losses 88 goals for 59 against top scorer David Villa (8)

FTSAUS Fact: Spain have more players (5) with over 100 caps in their 23 man squad then any other country competing at this years World Cup. They are captain Iker Casillas (153), Xavi (131), Sergio Ramos (115),  Xabi Alonso (109) and Fernando Torres (107). If Spain make the quarter finals, Andres Iniesta (95 caps) could also join the 100 caps club and if they make the semi final striker David Villa (94 caps) could reach the milestone.

Extra time: Spain have a strong squad, no ifs about it. Their success revolves around the midfield which is the key to their staggering possession stars which has had them dominating matches with more than 60% of the ball. The problem that they have though is that they don’t kill off teams and are always vulnerable to a break away equaliser. Of the 26 competitive matches they have won since the 2010 World Cup final, 14 of them have been by a solitary goal. A win is a win but Spain may be coming to an end of an era.

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How far will Spain go in the 2014 World Cup?