Talk of Spain's Demise Is Extremely Premature

Guillem BalagueFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2014


Mark Twain once wrote "the report of my death was an exaggeration." Spanish football can claim the same.

The realities are there for all to see. This may well be an ageing side, and the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso are almost certainly going to—at least internationally—call it a day after this World Cup.

Perhaps Daniel Carvajal, the young Real Madrid defender, could have got the nod ahead of Atletico Madrid's Juanfran at the back, and maybe Isco should have been given his chance finally to come of age with the full Spanish side, while Alvaro Negredo and/or Fernando Llorente could have made the cut ahead of Juan Mata and Fernando Torres.

LANDOVER, MD - JUNE 06: Head coach Vicente Del Bosque of Spain faces the media during a press conference of the Spain National Team at the FedexField on June 6, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

But if the past few years have taught us anything, it's that when it comes to making the really big decisions on the biggest of all stages, Vicente del Bosque doesn't usually get it wrong; and the reality is that this is a team that is better than, certainly, most of the other sides in the competition.

And that isn't a matter of arrogance, it's a matter of fact.

Like his predecessor, the late, great Luis Aragones, Del Bosque has worked the miracle of effectively turning a national side—and what used to be a fairly divided national side at that—into a world-beating team with a club-side mentality.

A group of players, as tight as ticks, prepared to battle together for the common cause, who despite where they may come from geographically in Spain, on the pitch all speak the same language. It lived through a difficult period between 2011-12 (with the unnecessary tension created by Jose Mourinho) but still managed to work/win.

And the reason for that is precisely because of the loyalty, fidelity, trust and confidence Del Bosque has always shown in the squad that have in the past answered every question that's ever been asked of them. As well as the extraordinary quality of the players, of course.

His decision not to take Jesus Navas, despite the winger's claims that he is once again fit and raring to go following a long-standing injury, will have broken his heart, as it did when Marcos Senna missed out for the same reason in 2010.

It is probably for that reason he has picked Juanfran because he knows he can double up as a winger, which is where he used to play, and add perhaps a little bit of extra pace when needed.

What we have seen of this Spanish side over their last two friendlies is a side that looks to dominate play and possession for the first hour before injecting a little bit more pace in the closing third of the game with the inclusion of someone like Cesc Fabregas, David Silva or, if he hasn’t been named in the starting line-up, Pedro.

LANDOVER, MD - JUNE 06: Diego Costa of Spain shoots towards goal during a training session of the Spain National Team at the FedexField on June 6, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

At the moment it looks like Del Bosque's preferred system will be for a named striker, and that's why he was so keen to have Diego Costa in his side, even though he isn't quite 100 percent fit yet.

It looks very much like the Netherlands will line up with five across the back, and when facing that, you need at least one forward capable of concentrating the mind of at least one, probably two, of the defenders.

And you have to say that in that system Diego Costa can probably do that better than just about any other centre forward in the world.

Even Torres understands that, for a No. 9, it is not about the amount of times you touch the ball but what you do without it.

David Villa is, in any case, the striker who has understood better what the side needs, and that is why he will play many minutes just before he goes to the MLS.

That apart, it will probably be the same old Spain, with lots of passing and possession the order of the day. It may not be everyone’s glass of sangria, but people who say they find it boring should remember that it takes two to tango, and if one side defends as deep as Bolivia and El Salvador did in the friendlies, what's the alternative?

In Spain, the perception is that this is a side that, win or lose, comes into the competition with the expectations of going as far as they can; a side looking to compete and one that will not choke.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking in more detail as to how they’re doing. Bring it on; I can't wait.