Euro 2012: What's Next for Spain?
Ian Darke mentioned it as the clock was winding down on Spain’s European Championship victory: will the Spaniards be able to make it four major tournament titles in a row?
With World Cup qualifying beginning in September, it isn’t really too early to start the discussion. Three tournaments in a row is a record, and four would be basically unfathomable.
Yet, it is a legitimate possibility.
The 2014 World Cup will be in Brazil, which presents problems in and of itself. There have been seven FIFA World Cups in North and South America, and none of them have been won by a European side.
Brazil, as hosts, will have a huge advantage—as will Lionel Messi-fueled Argentina.
However, since a run of dominance in this vein has never been seen before, Spain shouldn’t be tied down by history.
This edition of the Spanish national team is not a particularly old side. Only Xavi (32), Iker Casillas (31) and Xabi Alonso (30) are at least 30 years old, and the defense is actually quite young.
Sergio Ramos (26), Gerard Pique (25) and Jordi Alba (23) all have at least a couple peak years left in them. In addition, youngsters such as the aforementioned Alba, Sergio Busquets (23) and Pedro (24) have made their way into prominent roles in the squad.
Spain also have several extremely young players who may be ready to play more prominent roles at the 2014 World Cup. Midfielders Isco (20), Iker Muniain (19) and Thiago Alcantara (21) have all put in impressive performances in La Liga, especially given their age.
The famed Barcelona youth academy has spent years churning out players who have been schooled in the Spanish style of football. Thus, they are theoretically prepared to step into the national side when age starts to affect the senior team.
However, the heart of the Spanish midfield—Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso and Andres Iniesta—will all be at least 30 by the time the next World Cup rolls around. They may still be effective players, but their peak will likely be past.
If they are not at the level we have grown accustomed to seeing, Spain may function differently. If Xavi’s passes are a split second late or a fraction off target, Spain’s precision attacks will suffer.
It’s difficult to project what will happen as players age—and that certainly holds true with these three players. Each of them use as much brains as talent to dominate.
Replacing them is a question mark as well. Even if there are replacements ready, the leadership that Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Iniesta offer will be hard to replicate.
But, reinforcements will be on the way. Spain clearly missed David Villa at the Euros, so his return will be huge. If he returns to his previous form, he could be the answer to the issues at the front of the attack.
As three-time defending champions, Spain have to be taken seriously as contenders—even though the World Cup will be in South America.
But, their roster is loaded with talent and youth. If everything comes together in 2014, that new Spain side may be just as scary as the one of the last four years.
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