5 Players Pushing for a Spain Place in 2013
Vicente del Bosque has a job most managers would jump at. The World Cup-winning coach took over the Spain national team just after it had swept to victory at the 2008 European Championships, where Luis Aragones' project to dispense with the old guard reaped its reward.
Aragones decided earlier in his reign to change the way Spain played, by fielding what he described as "the little men." Raul was left out of a major international tournament for the first time in 10 years and tiki-taka entered the soccer lexicon as Spain ended its 44-year wait for a major international trophy.
But Del Bosque is not one to rest on his laurels and has been steadily bringing through a younger crop since Spain's victorious run in South Africa. Here are five players that will give the veteran coach a pleasant selection headache in 2013.
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Isco has had a pretty good year. The Malaga attacking midfielder scooped up both the European Golden Boy award, set up by Tuttosport and voted for by sports journalists around the continent.
Previous winners Include Rafael van der Vaart, Wayne Rooney, Leo Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Mario Gotze.
He was also named the Professional Football League's breakthrough player of the year, following in the footsteps of Sergio Busquets and Iker Muniain.
The 20-year-old signed for Malaga after just a handful of appearances for Valencia in one of the steals of the century. The Mestalla club is perennially penniless but must be kicking itself for letting Isco go for just 6 million euros.
Inigo Martinez, Real Sociedad
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Martinez, a center-back, has been in good form for La Real this season and featured in Spain's Olympic squad under Luis Milla.
Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea
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While Del Bosque is far from blinkered against Spanish players abroad, Dani Guiza's adventure in Turkey after Euro 2008 hardly helped the cause of exiled hopefuls.
He is hardly a stranger to the red shirt either, having made almost 50 appearances for Spain at every level from Under-19 upward.
Leo Baptistao, Rayo Vallecano
Baptistao is a Brazilian-Italian plying his trade for Rayo and doing it rather well. The striker came through the ranks at the southern Madrid side and debuted in Primera this season.
He has since played 15 matches, scoring six and laying on five assists. His performances have earned him the interest of Spain's scouts according to Marca, and Baptistao is in the process of obtaining Spanish residency papers.
The 20-year-old offers something a little different in that he can play as a lone or secondary striker and is pretty handy on the wing as well.
Koke, Atletico Madrid
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Swansea's Michu was going in this slide as the safest bet for a call-up since a famous Spanish actress unwittingly released her telephone number on Twitter earlier this year.
However, Del Bosque told Spanish television on Christmas Day (who says international coaches don't work hard?) that the Premier League's top scorer would get the nod for the Uruguay match along with Celta Vigo's Iago Aspas (h/t The Guardian).
In reserve, I give you Koke, the all-action Atletico midfielder who made his debut at 17, forced his way into the first team under Gregorio Manzano and is now a pivotal part of Diego Simeone's midfield.
A Europa League winner with almost 30 Spain appearances for the junior ranks, Koke will get a crack at the senior squad if his form, and Atletico's, continues into 2013.