If the Spain team were a class at your local boys school, it's fair to say there are probably quite a few players who could be considered the teacher's pet. Whittled down though, Xabi Alonso is certainly near the front of the running order when it comes to Vicente del Bosque handing out marbles to put in the jar.
Under Luis Aragones at Euro 2008, the Basque midfielder was largely used as a replacement, Marcos Senna often preferred ahead of him. Since Del Bosque took charge though, Alonso and Sergio Busquets, in the now famous "double pivot," have become a feature of La Roja's side.
With that in mind, Spain were left with quite the quandary when a groin injury ruled the 31-year-old out of this summer's Confederations Cup in Brazil.
The quandary seemed to provide evolution against Uruguay though. For the first 45 minutes, Spain were unstoppably smooth; dominating possession and pressing to win the ball back better than ever—if that's possible.
When the whistle went for full time, there was a strong feeling that 2-1 flattered the South Americans in a big way. Spain had pretty much shaped up with a Barcelona-like 4-3-3, and both Goal columnist Ben Hayward and Yahoo!'s Shahan Ahmed argued that the need for Alonso was questionable after the performance.
"Spain may be a stronger side without Xabi Alonso," argued Ahmed, whose argument became weaker as the World Cup warmup progressed.
Despite defeating Nigeria, La Roja were certainly not as comfortable as they would have liked, while Italy were the better side in normal time in the all-European semifinal. Then, there was the final, in which Brazil battered a weary and Alonso-less side, 3-0.
All the evidence suggests that any doubts over the Real Madrid midfielder's place in the starting lineup were premature. Admittedly, there were other factors which carried Brazil through the final—home advantage, the vociferous crowd and Spanish tiredness—but it cannot be underplayed that Spain benefit from having Alonso in the team.
He offers a different take on passing to the Barca trio of Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, without straying too far from the tiki-taka system which has yielded Spain's success. For Los Blancos, he completed 83 percent of his passes last season, 152 long balls and created 48 chances from a deep-lying position.
But it is his breaking up of play where he is most missed in the national team. In La Liga, he won 70 out of his 89 tackles but also gave away 37 fouls—well over one a game—which were not needless but often would stop the opposing team from starting a fluid attack, via Squawka.
In November, he'll turn 32, and as a player who's never relied on pace, he should be a shoo-in for Spain when the World Cup comes around next summer. It is true that del Bosque—or his successor—need to begin to think about what happens after Xabi and Xavi, but with less than a year to go, now is not the time for wholesale changes.