Will La Roja be los campeones once again?
Brazil were the last national team to repeat as World Cup winners, lifting the title in 1958 and again in 1962. But with all due respect to Vicente Feola, Aymore Moreira, Pele and Garrincha, if Spain can repeat the feat, their accomplishment will stand above the rest.
So many obstacles stand in the way of Vicente del Bosque and his squad.
Football is cyclical when it comes to tactics, and it appears that possession-based football is becoming outmoded in favor of a high-pressing, physical, counter-attacking style. Look no further than Brazil's demolition of Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup final and Real Madrid's systematic dissection of Bayern Munich in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final.
Many of Spain's key players are also batting injury, fatigue or a combination of the two. This is the third summer in a row in which the national team will be in a tournament. Combine that with Barcelona and Real Madrid's deep Champions League runs each season, and that's a lot of football.
Count out La Roja at your own risk, though. Del Bosque demonstrated at Euro 2012 that he isn't afraid to play more pragmatic football. Spain didn't really look like Spain until the final, when Cesare Prandelli decided to have Italy attack their opponents, to disastrous results. The 2010 World Cup was also far from a beautiful affair.
What's gotten lost is how strong Spain have been defensively in the last two major tournaments. They've kept 10 clean sheets out of a possible 13 matches.
Group B is among the toughest in the World Cup, but Spain should be able to get through, and from there, anything can happen in a one-off knockout match.
|Spain World Cup Schedule|
|June 13||Spain||Netherlands||3 p.m. ET; 8 p.m. BST||Salvador|
|June 18||Spain||Chile||3 p.m. ET; 8 p.m. BST||Rio De Janeiro|
|June 23||Australia||Spain||12 p.m. ET; 5 p.m. BST||Curitiba|
Here's a look at the 23-man squad Spain will be taking to Brazil.
|Spain 23-Man Roster|
|GK||Iker Casillas||Real Madrid|
|GK||David de Gea||Manchester United|
|DEF||Sergio Ramos||Real Madrid|
|DEF||Javi Martinez||Bayern Munich|
|MID||Xabi Alonso||Real Madrid|
|MID||David Silva||Manchester City|
|MID||Juan Mata||Manchester United|
|FWD||Diego Costa||Atletico Madrid|
|FWD||David Villa||Atletico Madrid|
Del Bosque isn't trying to reinvent the wheel. Most of the key players from 2010 remain, with the coach making enough changes to keep everything fresh.
There were a few surprises in the final 23-man squad.
Taking Fernando Torres ahead of either Fernando Llorente or Alvaro Negredo seems a bit odd.
Llorente struggled a bit early on but found his form at Juventus and scored 16 goals in 34 Serie A matches. Within Antonio Conte's system at Juve, the 29-year-old got used to holding up the ball and linking the midfield to the attack in the way that Spain do.
Injuries limited Negredo a bit, but he formed a solid partnership with Sergio Aguero and offered a somewhat more direct option for Del Bosque's attack.
You can see what the coach might see in Torres. He did score the winner in the Euro 2008 final and won the Golden Boot four years later. Putting on the national team shirt does seem to bring out the best in the 30-year-old.
ESPN FC's Graham Hunter wrote that Torres' success was in part down to his relationship with Luis Aragones:
He was a guy who not only had talent but also a winner's mentality, the knack of always turning up on the big occasion. Some of that was innate, some taught by Luis 'El Sabio' Aragonés.
They were coach and pupil at Atlético Madrid, the club they both loved, during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons while winning promotion back to La Liga. It was then that Aragonés toughened up 'The Kid.' The manager's famous 'win, win, win and then win again' refrain was drilled into his players, not too different to the routine that Laurent Blanc and Fabien Barthez made famous during the 1998 World Cup. Aragonés would occasionally give Torres a kiss on the head for luck before a big match.
Maybe Torres has one more surprise in store.
The other snub was Real Madrid right-back Daniel Carvajal. The competition was stiff between him, Juanfran and Cesar Azpilicueta, and Del Bosque opted for the latter two. A strong case could be made to take Carvajal, but Juanfran and Azpilicueta are both worthy selections.
Jesus Navas' absence was a disappointment for some, but Del Bosque admitted that the Manchester City's lack of match fitness doomed his World Cup chances.
"My heart sinks," the coach said, per ESPN.co.uk. "He's a guy who's spent two months without playing. He's almost perfect, but it has been two months without playing. We prefer to take someone in a condition that we have no questions about."
Looking at the 23-man roster, this is the likely starting XI Del Bosque will use against the Netherlands in the opener.
|Projected Starting XI|
Only a few spots look to be up for grabs.
The battle at right-back will be an interesting one. Juanfran arguably outplayed Azpilicueta in the Champions League, but he was absolutely knackered in the final against Real Madrid. Azpilicueta is also slightly better going forward, which makes him a better fit for Del Bosque's system, unless the manager wants to go more defensive.
The Chelsea right-back gets the slight edge.
The other questionable decision for Del Bosque will be whether or not Diego Costa is fit enough to start.
He certainly seemed so in the friendly against El Salvador on June 7. The Atletico Madrid forward started and played 70 minutes.
Del Bosque said after the match that Costa could've gone longer, too.
"Juanfran played the entire 90 minutes and held up, Diego Costa played for 70 and he could've gone more but we decided to take him out," he said, per Goal's Sacha Pisani.
If Costa can't go, then Del Bosque will start Torres at striker or drop Cesc Fabregas into the false nine position he played back in Euro 2012.
Aside from those two positions, everything else seems set.
Iker Casillas will play in goal. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos make up the centre-back combo, with Jordi Alba out to the left.
In midfield, Del Bosque will use the double-pivot to offer more defensive cover. Plus, Sergio Busquets has shown that he can be a Swiss Army knife no matter where he's deployed. He and Alonso will occupy the CDM positions, with Xavi sitting a little further up the pitch.
With Andres Iniesta crowded out of midfield, he'll play out on the left wing, and Pedro will be on the right.
While Spain are a bit predictable tactically, no one has figured them out at a major international tournament just yet. Del Bosque has managed to stay ahead of the game, and the Confederations Cup may have given him the impetus necessary to embrace pragmatism even more.
Don't expect to see a complete overhaul of La Roja's style in Brazil, but don't be surprised if they perfect how to win ugly.
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