Predicting a Route to World Cup Glory for Spain
Spain's quest for immortality begins this week as Vicente del Bosque's men attempt to become the first team to defend their World Cup title since Brazil in 1962.
Since claiming the 2008 European Championship, this La Roja generation has grown to be recognised among the finest international outfits ever assembled. A second World Cup crown—and a fourth major trophy in six years—would make the Spaniards the most prolific dynasty in the game's history.
The task, of course, will be a difficult one: No European team has ever been successful in a World Cup in South America. Furthermore, many of Del Bosque's glittering stars are entering the final phase of their international careers.
But if Spain are to claim a historic second title, how will they do it? Who will the Spaniards face in the various stages?
Here, we've had some fun predicting the possible outcomes for the tournament in Brazil, attempting to identify a path to the World Cup trophy for Spain.
That possible route to glory is presented across the following slides.
Journey Through Group B
Group B Opponents: Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Predicted Group Position: First place
Intriguingly, Spain open their World Cup defence by meeting the team they defeated in the 2010 World Cup final, the Netherlands.
After such a dramatic encounter four years ago, it would hardly be surprising to witness a tension-filled affair when the teams meet again at Arena Fonte Nova on Friday.
However, despite the presence of Louis van Gaal's talented team, La Roja will still be favourites to emerge as the winners of Group B.
A tight victory over the Dutch should kick-start La Roja's campaign nicely and prepare Vicente del Bosque's side for their second critical match against Chile on June 18.
Although Jorge Sampaoli's outfit will be difficult opponents in South America, the Spaniards have a decisive edge in quality and cohesion and should be capable of edging out the world's No. 14 side.
That would leave Spain with a comfortable fixture against Australia in their final group match, which should present the opportunity for a routine victory.
Round of 16
Predicted Opponent: Croatia
Should Spain top the standings in Group B as predicted, they will meet the second-placed side from Group A.
On home soil, Brazil should prove too strong for Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. Consequently, the hosts should emerge as the highest-ranked team from Group A, leaving Croatia and Mexico as the likely candidates for the second qualifying position.
Presently, it appears that Croatia have the edge.
Although Niko Kovac's side has hardly been spectacular recently, there is enough talent in the Croatian outfit to navigate their way out of the group.
In midfield, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic will form a potent combination, while Mario Mandzukic has the capacity to fire the Vatreni to victory in at least one match.
Additionally, Mexico's pre-World Cup form has not been inspiring, which could further help the Croatians in their bid to qualify for the Round of 16.
However, a meeting with Vicente del Bosque's world champions will likely prove too much for Kovac's men, meaning the Spaniards should progress to the quarter-finals.
Predicted Opponent: Uruguay
In the quarter-finals, Vicente del Bosque's men will meet either the winner of Group D or the second-placed side from Group C (those respective teams will meet on June 29 to fight for a quarter-final berth against Spain).
On form and precedent, Uruguay should progress as the top side from Group D ahead of Italy, England and Costa Rica. Meanwhile, with Colombia best-placed to be victorious in Group C, Spain's other possible opponent is likely to be Greece or the Ivory Coast.
Yet, regardless of which of those teams emerges as the second-placed side in Group C, Uruguay should prove to be far too potent and intimidating in the Round of 16 clash.
That would set up a heavyweight encounter between Oscar Tabarez's impressive side and Vicente del Bosque's all-conquering Spaniards.
On South American soil, the Uruguayans would present a stern test for the defending champions, but a recent 2-1 victory in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil will give Spain the confidence to repeat the result.
Predicted Opponent: Argentina
In the Round of 16, the winners of Group F and Group H will face the second-placed teams from Group E and Group G, respectively. The victorious sides from those two games will meet on July 5, with the triumphant nation progressing to face Spain in the semi-finals.
Argentina are the strong favourites to top Group F and should have the firepower up front to cruise past Nigeria, Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina. That would present a potential Round of 16 match-up with France, Switzerland or Ecuador.
In Group H, Belgium's quality and depth should see the Red Devils qualify in first place. Germany might just edge out Portugal in the strong Group G, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo and company to face Belgium.
From those encounters, Argentina and Portugal would be the favourites to advance to a quarter-final—a showdown which should favour Argentina on South American soil.
If that were to occur, a semi-final pitting Lionel Messi against a plethora of his Barcelona teammates would be a truly gripping occasion. While Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain provide Alejandro Sabella with a potentially devastating attack, balance and familiarity—areas where Spain have the edge—cannot be underestimated on such a colossal stage.
Predicted Opponent: Brazil
On the other side of the World Cup draw (assuming previous predictions come to fruition), Brazil and Germany look to be the pre-eminent candidates for the semi-final berths.
Brazil in particular have the most straight-forward path out of their group among the major teams on that side, while Germany appear to hold a slight edge over Portugal in Group G.
The hosts are likely to face the Netherlands in the Round of 16, before possible quarter-final match-ups against either Colombia, Italy or England. In familiar surrounds, the host nation would be expected to triumph against all three opponents and progress to the semi-final.
Germany, meanwhile, could potentially take on Algeria in the Round of 16. A victory would set up a quarter-final showdown with either Switzerland, France, Ecuador or Nigeria. The Germans would be heavily favoured to move into the semi-finals from all of those possible encounters.
A clash between Brazil and Germany would be an enthralling semi-final, with only the advantages inherent in playing at home tipping the balance towards Luiz Felipe Scolari's men.
All of which would leave Vicente del Bosque's Spain with the task of toppling the hosts if they are to claim consecutive World Cup titles.