FIFA World Cup

Predicting the Spain Squad 40 Days from the 2014 World Cup

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2014

Predicting the Spain Squad 40 Days from the 2014 World Cup

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Just 40 days now separate Spain from the beginning of the nation's World Cup defence in Brazil this summer.

    After claiming three major international trophies since 2008, the impending World Cup represents an opportunity for the all-conquering Spaniards to extend their golden era of dominance and become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to defend their crown.

    As always, Spain's manager, Vicente del Bosque, has the enviable task of selecting his squad from a phenomenally talented generation of players, who carry with them an astonishing record of success.

    Of course, there is a raft of automatic selections for the defending champions, but there is also a collection of others stars who have bolted to prominence to make compelling cases for inclusion in squad.

    Here, we predict the final 23-man squad that Del Bosque will take to Rio de Janeiro in June.

Notable Exclusions

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    As always, there will be a number of players set to painfully miss out on a World Cup place, whether due to a major injury or watching other contenders move past them in the pecking order.

    Below are a handful of players who look set to miss the plane to Brazil.

     

    Victor Valdes

    Suffered a serious knee injury while playing against Celta Vigo in March, which has ruled the goalkeeper out for seven months.

     

    Alvaro Arbeloa

    Has been a regular for Spain under Vicente del Bosque, but a long injury layoff at the wrong time has meant others look like they're overtaking him for a place in the final squad.

     

    Juanfran

    Highly possible that Spain could go to the World Cup without a secondary right-back, meaning the Atletico Madrid defender seems likely to miss out.

     

    Isco

    Has made an impressive start to life at Real Madrid after switching from Malaga, but he will likely be kept out of the squad because of the formidable Spanish midfield brigade.

     

    Juan Mata

    He featured for Spain in both the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European championships, but he has endured a poor season domestically for Chelsea and Manchester United.

     

    Fernando Torres

    He has represented his country at the last three major tournaments, but after his sustained run of poor form domestically, it seems likely he'll miss the World Cup this time around.

     

    David Villa

    Despite being a key component in Atletico Madrid's fine season, the emergence of teammate Diego Costa looks set to rob him of a seat to Brazil in 2014.

Iker Casillas

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    POSITION: Goalkeeper

    AGE: 32

    CLUB: Real Madrid

     

    Iker Casillas is among the finest goalkeepers of his generation and has been a cornerstone of the Spanish team that has claimed three consecutive major trophies since 2008.

    With lightning reflexes, a strong resolve and superb concentration, the Real Madrid star has grown to become a national icon in Spain, having progressed through the Real Madrid ranks to claim honours from the Under-15 level and upward.

    Perhaps the only concern for Del Bosque is the 32-year-old's absence from league matches this season. Under new boss Carlo Ancelotti, Casillas has been used exclusively in cup competitions for Real Madrid, while Diego Lopez has been deployed in goal for the entire league campaign.

    Yet, it's still hard to envisage another player being Spain's first-choice keeper for this World Cup in Brazil, given that Casillas sits in third place on the Champions League Goalkeeper Rankings held by Squawka.

David De Gea

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    Alex Grimm/Getty Images

    POSITION: Goalkeeper

    AGE: 23

    CLUB: Manchester United

     

    With Barcelona's Victor Valdes ruled out of the World Cup due to a knee injury suffered against Celta Vigo in March, David De Gea looks likely to be Casillas' back-up in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

    Considered the likely heir to Casillas' throne in years to come, Del Bosque may well view this World Cup as an excellent learning opportunity for the Manchester United keeper, who has grown to become a consistently reliable shot-stopper in an otherwise miserable season at Old Trafford in 2013-14.

    Of course, De Gea's inexperience may be a concern for the manager, but being able to closely observe the methods and preparation techniques carried out by the side's veteran No. 1 could prove invaluable for both De Gea and Spain in the coming years.

Pepe Reina

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    POSITION: Goalkeeper

    AGE: 31

    CLUB: Napoli

     

    Pepe Reina rarely gets a chance for Spain at international tournaments, but the experience and galvanising effect offered by the 31-year-old are valued additions for Del Bosque.

    Indeed, Reina has been a cog of the Spanish squad at all three of the nation's recent major triumphs and is also considered a brilliant penalty expert—a highly desirable attribute for a back-up keeper.

    Reina has also been in good form for Napoli this season after moving on loan from Liverpool, averaging 2.00 saves per game and 2.15 saves per goal, according to Squawka—figures that leave the popular Reina at a similar level to Serie A's other leading keepers in Gianluigi Buffon, Morgan De Sanctis and Samir Handanovic.

    Once again, it looks unlikely that Napoli stopper will see many minutes of playing time in Brazil, but the third goalkeeper position looks like his.

Cesar Azpilicueta

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    POSITION: Right-Back

    AGE: 24

    CLUB: Chelsea

     

    Cesar Azpilicueta looks to have moved ahead of Alvaro Arbeloa for the right-back position in the Spain squad, after starting for Del Bosque in Spain's most recent match against Italy in March—a game in which the 24-year-old put forward an impressive performance.

    With Arbeloa having missed two months with a knee injury, the Chelsea full-back appears set to be deployed in his preferred position for Spain at this year's World Cup in Brazil, despite covering the left-hand side under Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge.

    In addition to his incredibly reliable defending, Azpilicueta will also pose more of an attacking threat under Del Bosque than he does under Mourinho, with his dominant right foot capable of whipping in dangerous crosses from the right wing.

    It also seems likely that Spain won't select a back-up right-back for the final squad, given the ability of two of team's expected centre-backs to shuffle across if reorganisation is required.

Sergio Ramos

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    POSITION: Centre-Back

    AGE: 28

    CLUB: Real Madrid

     

    There will always be queries of Sergio Ramos' temperament and composure, but the all-round value offered by the Real Madrid star to the Spanish national side is undisputed.

    Recognised as one of Europe's finest central defenders, Ramos has been a vital component of the Spain outfit which has claimed a World Cup and two European championships since 2008.

    Quick across the ground and strong in the air, the 28-year-old is the prototypical modern defender, as well as being a player capable of hurting opposing teams from set-pieces in attack—something that was on show in the second leg of Real Madrid's Champions League tie with Bayern Munich.

    Ramos is also one of the team's central defenders who can shift across to the right if Azpilicueta is brought down by injury, given his history of playing in the position.

Gerard Pique

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    Manu Mielniezuk/Associated Press

    POSITION: Centre-Back

    AGE: 27

    CLUB: Barcelona

     

    Despite missing a month of action since fracturing his hip against Atletico Madrid, Pique is still Spain's obvious option to stand alongside Sergio Ramos in the centre of the team's defence.

    A strong and clever tackler and a superb reader of the play, the 27-year-old brings a definitive degree of composure to his partnership with the more impulsive Ramos.

    Pique's value to his club Barcelona has also been on shown in his absence, with the team's defensive struggles providing an insight into the effectiveness of his play.

    Additionally, the former Manchester United star is a superb passer of the ball and can join into the team's attacking forays, given the quality of his finishing technique for a defender.

Raul Albiol

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    POSITION: Centre-Back

    AGE: 28

    CLUB: Napoli

     

    Raul Albiol has been a member of all three of Spain's triumphant squads since 2008 and made two appearances in the European championships of that year.

    Despite not seeing any playing time in the two most recent major tournaments, the 28-year-old looks assured of a place under Del Bosque after a great season in Serie A with Napoli.

    Perhaps Albiol's great asset is his versatility, as he owns the ability to play in central defence, at right-back or as a holding midfielder.

    Back-up players with such an array of talents are extremely important in major tournaments, particularly if injury issues arise among the first XI.

Javi Martinez

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    POSITION: Centre-Back/Defensive Midfield

    AGE: 25

    CLUB: Bayern Munich

     

    Like Albiol, Javi Martinez brings versatility to the Spain squad, with his ability to play both in midfield and in defence being a key attribute to booking a ticket to Brazil.

    Excellent passing skills (90.6 percent passing completion rate in 2013-14, according to WhoScored.com) and a strong aerial presence make the Bayern Munich player an effective operator in both defence and attack, with his reliability being enhanced by his threat at set pieces.

    Although Martinez has seen far less playing time under Pep Guardiola than he did when Jupp Heynckes was in charge, Del Bosque is likely to view the 25-year-old as a valuable second option for the upcoming World Cup.

Jordi Alba

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    Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

    POSITION: Left-Back

    AGE: 25

    CLUB: Barcelona

     

    Jordi Alba is Spain's undisputed No. 1 at left-back, having been a critical figure in the Spanish squad at the 2012 European Championships.

    Through a combination of excellent technique and explosive pace, the Barcelona star is a nightmare for opposing teams, given how effectively he stretches sides looking to congest the talented Spanish midfield.

    Alba is also a fantastic passer of the ball and has proven to be an excellent interceptor in defence.

    And while he remains a relatively weak tackler, the overall combination of defensive reliability and genuine attacking threat means Alba is a critical weapon for Del Bosque and Spain.

Alberto Moreno

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    POSITION: Left-Back

    AGE: 21

    CLUB: Sevilla

     

    Alberto Moreno looks to have moved ahead of Arsenal's Nacho Monreal for the second left-back position in the squad after an impressive season with Sevilla.

    Pacey, defensively reliable and strong on the ball, is the emerging 21-year-old who looks to be the complete package and the perfect understudy to Jordi Alba.

    Moreno's talents are also being recognised by Chelsea, who are preparing to make a £15 million move for the Sevilla star, according to the Mirror's Paul Gorst.

    Moreno's chances will have been further enhanced by Monreal's defensive struggles in the Premier League this season which have seen the 28-year-old make only 12 appearances for Arsenal in 2013-14.

Sergio Busquets

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    POSITION: Defensive Midfield

    AGE: 25

    CLUB: Barcelona

     

    Possibly the most accomplished holding midfielder in world football, Sergio Busquets is a certainty to be Del Bosque's primary defensive option in Spain's vaunted midfield at the 2014 World Cup.

    An incredibly strong ball-winner as well as a sublime passer (93.1 percent passing completion rate in 2013-14, according to WhoScored.com), Busquets will provide the platform and cover to allow his more attacking teammates to flourish ahead of him.

    Del Bosque has also shown a desire during his tenure to maintain the intricate passing game of the side's Barcelona-based core, which Busquets is critical to as a technically gifted holding player.

    Barring any injury interruptions, the 25-year-old will feature in every match for his nation in Brazil this year.

Xabi Alonso

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    POSITION: Central Midfield

    AGE: 32

    CLUB: Real Madrid

     

    While Busquets provides Spain with fluidity, Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso gives the team added grunt and tenacity in the central midfield positions.

    A tough tackler and determined ball-winner, Xabi Alonso has been a critical figure for his club under Ancelotti and is likely to be among Del Bosque's primary options in Brazil this year.

    Although the 32-year-old can be susceptible to giving away a succession of fouls, the former Liverpool star is the point of difference in the gifted Spanish midfield.

    With 110 international caps to his name, Alonso's supreme experience will also be vital in Spain's attempts to defend their 2010 crown.

Xavi

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    POSITION: Central Midfield

    AGE: 34

    CLUB: Barcelona

     

    Just ahead of Busquets and Alonso will be Xavi, who over the last decade has set new standards in midfield playmaking during Barcelona's incredible era of success.

    Perhaps more than any other player in his generation, Xavi has epitomised the essence of Spanish football with his fluid and intelligent passing that has made the 34-year-old one of the world's preeminent players.

    Despite entering the final phase of his glittering career which has led to a physical decline, Del Bosque will deploy his influential orchestrator in midfield, safe in the knowledge that few can retain the same degree of composure and serenity on the biggest stage of all.

Thiago Alcantara

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    POSITION: Central Midfield

    AGE: 23

    CLUB: Bayern Munich

     

    Thiago Alcantara has risen to become a key figure in the Bayern Munich machine this season, which will see the 23-year-old rewarded with a ticket to Brazil.

    While Thiago will be behind Xavi in the pecking order for the team's primary midfield position, the emerging star possesses many of the same attributes as the legendary veteran, making him the perfect understudy to the 34-year-old.

    Many do still consider the Bayern Munich playmaker as a work in progress, but his excellent passing and dribbling skills mean he's already among Spain's finest at the tender age of 23.

    Thiago can also glide past defenders with the ball at his feet, providing Del Bosque with a more athletic alternative if changes need to be made through the use of substitutions.

Andres Iniesta

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    Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

    POSITION: Central Midfield/Attacking Midfield

    AGE: 29

    CLUB: Barcelona

     

    One of world's finest players and a man with a habit for shining on the biggest stage, Andres Iniesta will again be a key figure for his nation at this year's World Cup.

    Blessed with phenomenal skill and technique, the Barcelona superstar is perhaps the quintessential Spanish footballer, capable of making the difficult appear almost routine with his astonishing passing skills and ball control.

    Under Del Bosque, Iniesta will also be entrusted with a goal-scoring responsibility in the most advanced midfield position and will look forward to linking up with Diego Costa—a striker representing a definitive upgrade over Fernando Torres who led the line at times in the 2012 European Championships.

    Ahead of a trio of Xavi, Busquets and Alonso, Iniesta is the midfielder trusted with creating a vast amount of Spain's attacking threat.

Cesc Fabregas

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    POSITION: Attacking Midfield

    AGE: 26

    CLUB: Barcelona

     

    Despite enduring a difficult period at club level with Barcelona in recent months, Cesc Fabregas will certainly be an important component of Del Bosque's plans for Brazil.

    In previous campaigns, the attacking midfielder has been used as a false No. 9, despite the presence of strikers such as Torres and Alvaro Negredo in the squad.

    That could again be the case at times in South America this summer, particularly with the manager's affection for maintaining a positional fluidity across all areas of the pitch.

    However, if Costa is regularly deployed by Del Bosque, Fabregas will be competing for the attacking midfield positions. But even if he's used as just a substitute, the former Arsenal captain has the passing ability and goal-scoring nous to be a influential figure in Spain's campaign.

David Silva

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    Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

    POSITION: Attacking Midfield

    AGE: 28

    CLUB: Manchester City

     

    Another of Spain's dynamic midfielders, David Silva will be an important figure for Del Bosque at this year's World Cup, with his creative abilities in both central and wide areas likely to be used by the manager.

    Although Silva has voiced his displeasure with his playing time in the past, as reported by Christopher Davies of the Daily Mail, the 28-year-old played a key role in Spain's capture of the 2012 European Championships, scoring the opening goal of the tournament's final against Italy.

    Certainly, the presence of an unrivalled midfield ensemble may limit Silva's minutes somewhat, but his habit for scoring and creating chances should see him feature in most games to some extent.

Santi Cazorla

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    POSITION: Attacking Midfield/Left Wing

    AGE: 29

    CLUB: Arsenal

     

    Santi Cazorla's form for Arsenal in 2013-14 hasn't hit the heights of the previous season, but the diminutive Spaniard remains an excellent secondary option for Del Bosque as an attacking midfielder or drifting winger.

    With excellent ball control and quick passing, the 29-year-old will slot seamlessly into the line-up if any issues forced the likes of Iniesta or Silva to miss playing time.

    Cazorla's excellent shooting ability also means that he can be used as an important substitute if the team finds itself chasing a game during the campaign in Brazil.

    Of course, the Arsenal star is unlikely to see extended playing time (he only made two substitute appearances at the 2012 European Championships), but he looks likely to grab one of the final midfield positions in Spain's squad.

Koke

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    POSITION: Attacking Midfield

    AGE: 22

    CLUB: Atletico Madrid

     

    Koke has bolted to prominence in Atletico Madrid's brilliant season, seeing the young midfielder race past others to claim one of his nation's highly coveted midfield positions.

    Under Diego Simeone, Koke has excelled with his superb passing, strong shooting and fantastic dead-ball skills, which will provide Del Bosque with an extremely useful reserve.

    The 22-year-old is also extremely versatile, having played in every midfield position for Atletico Madrid at various stages this season.

    Although sitting behind Iniesta in his favoured position on the left, the Atletico star rounds out a brilliantly skillful Spanish midfield.

Pedro

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    Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

    POSITION: Right Wing/Left Wing

    AGE: 26

    CLUB: Barcelona

     

    After racing to prominence at the 2010 World Cup, Pedro will again be one of Spain's primary attacking weapons in Brazil this year.

    Able to play along both flanks, the Barcelona star can terrorise defences with his pace, intelligent runs and world-class passing ability.

    Of course, Pedro is unlikely to be an ever-present starter in Del Bosque's side, but the 26-year-old can be an influential substitute with his potent goal-scoring threat, while his flexibility is also a desirable quality for his manager.

Jesus Navas

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    POSITION: Right Wing

    AGE: 28

    CLUB: Manchester City

     

    Jesus Navas will be a crucial player for his team at this year's World Cup, as his blistering pace gives the Manchester City winger a different dimension to many of his Spanish counterparts.

    After featuring for his country in the last two major tournaments, Navas' quick adaption to the rigours of the Premier League in 2013-14 is also an important confidence boost for the 28-year-old who has previously suffered from cases of anxiety.

    Although Navas will be used sparingly at the World Cup, the impact he can have in limited playing time as a substitute will ensure that he plays an important role for Del Bosque in Brazil, particularly if the team is needing to find a different avenue in attack.

Diego Costa

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    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    POSITION: Striker

    AGE: 25

    CLUB: Atletico Madrid

     

    Costa will be public enemy No. 1 in Brazil this year, after opting to play for his adopted nation over his country of birth. How the prickly customer handles the unwanted attention is set to be among the most intriguing storylines of this year's World Cup.

    Yet, that aside, Costa appears set to be one of the tournament's most decisive players following an excellent season with Atletico Madrid that has seen him net 35 goals in 40 appearances to date.

    Given the quality of service Costa can expect, the 25-year-old's superb finishing and dribbling skills will provide Spain with possibly the most influential striker of the nation's era of dominance.

    Provided the abrasive character deals with the volatility set to surround him, he will play a leading role in Spain's quest to defend their title.

Alvaro Negredo

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    POSITION: Striker

    AGE: 28

    CLUB: Manchester City

     

    After making a brilliant start to life at Manchester City in 2013, Alvaro Negredo's form has dropped in recent months, seeing the striker fall behind Edin Dzeko in Manuel Pellegrini's preferred side.

    Yet, despite the concerns regarding Negredo's form, it's likely the powerful 28-year-old will be used as Spain's back-up striker in Brazil this summer.

    A thumping left foot will pose problems for any defence, while his muscular game will provide Del Bosque with a distinctly different option in attack when Negredo is used as a substitute.

    Although his opportunities will be limited, the presence of "The Beast," as he's known, will ensure Spain's collection of forwards has both versatility and variety at this year's World Cup.

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