Panama vs. Spain: Biggest Questions for La Roja in International Friendly
Date: November 14, 2012
Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Location: Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama
It may just be a friendly, but there are still a few things to keep an eye on in Spain's upcoming trip to Panama.
Vicente del Bosque has upset a handful of coaches and teams by taking a pretty strong squad to Central America, and that alone gives us plenty of motivation to tune in.
Barcelona have six representatives for the friendly, while three Real Madrid players will feature. No other team had more than one player selected.
This will likely have an especially big impact on La Blaugrana in their match against the in-form Real Zaragoza this weekend.
Beyond whether or not players can stay healthy in Panama, here are some questions for the reigning European and world champions in their last match of 2012.
There are a few players that the 62-year-old coach has left off the team due to various injuries or excessive play in recent weeks.
Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol were all excluded for different reasons. Pique has only just gotten match fit, and his central defensive partner is still injured.
Xavi has played eight matches in the last month and played over 80 minutes in all but two of those matches. Xabi Alonso is in a similar situation.
Premier League stars Fernando Torres and David Silva have not been in top form yet this season, but are left off more to get rest and rotate players rather than as punishment.
Who Will Start in Central Defense?
With Pique and Puyol both absent, the biggest question mark on the team is at center-back, and deciding whether or not to play the recently-injured Sergio Ramos.
Assuming Del Bosque does not go with a three-man defense that uses two full-backs, there are really only three options outside of the Madrid stalwart.
Two are defensive midfielders who have spent some time in central defense at the club level—Sergio Busquets and Javi Martinez.
We can almost guarantee that it won't be Busquets, since the Barcelona man is as irreplaceable in midfield as anyone else on the team.
Martinez has been solid as a center-back but is not world-class there. He could come off the bench to provide depth in defense and midfield, but will probably start if Ramos sits.
Martinez's partner would be Ramos' club teammate, Raul Albiol. Albiol has not been a club- or coach-favorite in recent years, but since this is a friendly and the Under-21 team played on Monday, he is really the best option.
Will New Caps Be Won?
In a team as talented and deep as this current Spanish squad, rarely does a player earn his first cap these days.
Great players like Gorka Iraizoz and Mikel Arteta are now in their 30s and have never played for the senior squad.
Younger players do not have much more of a chance, since the majority of La Roja's core players are either in their prime or not yet there.
Because of this, it would mean a great deal to any player to wear the famous red jersey in the middle of Spain's Golden Era, even in a friendly.
Against Panama, there are two players who have a chance to do this—Barcelona's Martin Montoya and Athletic Bilbao's Mikel Susaeta.
Susaeta has been one of La Liga's best wingers over the last few seasons, but is unlikely to start. He might not even feature at all.
Unfortunately, the best winger in Spain, and perhaps Europe, also traveled to Panama. Jesus Navas will also be joined by the very in-form Juan Mata and Barcelona's Pedro.
Montoya does have a very strong chance to not only feature, but start the match on the opposite flank of his club teammate, Jordi Alba.
The other right-back option, Atletico Madrid's Juanfran, played a full match last weekend and gave away the pass that led to France's equalizer in Spain's last World Cup Qualifier. He is still most likely to get the starting nod, though.
If Montoya does play and performs well, he has a great chance to start cementing the position he will likely hold in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.
How Will the Strikers Do?
In this summer's Euros, Spain won their second straight championship largely without using a true striker.
The absence of the injured David Villa coupled with Fernando Torres' poor form pushed Del Bosque to utilize a false nine. Generally speaking, the strategy worked.
In Panama, however, La Roja will likely field a single true striker up top, either Roberto Soldado or David Villa.
Neither striker is in superb form at the moment, but both are more than capable of scoring a couple of goals at any time.
Regardless of who starts, both will probably see time since neither was rested over the weekend. No matter who is supporting them in midfield, there should be a few chances to score.
It will be interesting to see not only how the attack fares, but also which striker performs better.
If Soldado outshines the man he replaced at Valencia, it can only help his case to be a starter in the next World Cup.
Can Spain Finish the Year Unbeaten?
In 2012, Spain played World Cup Qualifiers and friendlies and won their second straight European Championship.
Retaining their title was historic, but the fact that La Roja did not lose a single match this year is also impressive.
Vicente del Bosque led his team to 13 victories out of 15 matches. Only France and Italy were able to take a point from the team ranked No. 1 in the world.
Spain are a team full of world-class individuals, but their success of recent seasons is undoubtedly a team effort.
While certain players have had a greater influence on the pitch, it is a collective effort that has earned some tough wins and seen this side earn recognition as one of the greatest national teams in history.
It would be fitting for such a team to finish the year unbeaten after achieving such success over the summer.
They will be heavy favorites against Panama, but in football anything is possible. Vicente del Bosque will certainly not take this match lightly.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to leave your thoughts below.