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Ranking the Spain Players on Their World Cup Performance

Tim CollinsFeatured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

Ranking the Spain Players on Their World Cup Performance

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    Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

    Spain's glittering era of dominance came to an end at this World Cup in Brazil, as Vicente del Bosque's men became the first defending champions to be bundled out of the competition in just two games. 

    Despite arriving with confidence that a fourth successive international title could be captured, La Roja's lingering concerns—namely goalkeeping issues, a lack of athleticism in midfield and a striker headache—were ruthlessly exposed by the Netherlands and Chile in the opening days of action in Group B.

    A consolation victory over Australia, therefore, was the only moment of peace for the typically serene Spaniards.

    Now, with a new Spanish generation ready to begin, we've ranked each of Spain's players based on their 2014 World Cup performances, given that a number of La Roja's stars won't be around in four years' time.

    Of course, distinguishing the various squad members from one another is extremely difficult. In fact, a blanket could be thrown over almost 15 of Del Bosque's players, few giving any performances of note to separate themselves from the pack.

    However, with performances needing to be evaluated, we've assigned a ranking order to Spain's squad across the following slides. 

23. David De Gea

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Games Started: 0

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): N/A

    Manchester United's David De Gea finds himself at the bottom of these rankings for the simple fact that he didn't play a minute during the tournament. 

    The 23-year-old also developed a muscle strain while in Brazil, as reported by Paul Collins of the Daily Mail, preventing the promising shot-stopper from replacing the woefully out of form Iker Casillas after his disastrous displays against the Netherlands and Chile.

    De Gea will now view Russia 2018 as his chance to nail down a World Cup position with Spain. 

22. Iker Casillas

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Games Started: 2

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 0 clean sheets; 7 goals conceded; just 1.00 save per goal

    Casillas' tournament in Brazil was about as bad as it gets. Really, little else needs to be said. 

    After his poor touch gifted Robin van Persie a fourth Dutch goal in Spain's opener, his failure to hold onto a routine save cost Del Bosque's men a second decisive goal against Chile and ultimately ended their World Cup campaign.

    Despite being only 33 years of age—a goalkeeper can still be considered in their prime during their mid-30s—Casillas will need a strong season with Real Madrid in 2014-15 to be a viable option for the nation's title defence at Euro 2016. 

21. Juan Mata

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Games Started: 0

    Substitute Appearances: 1

    Key Stat(s): 1 goal; 1 chance created; won only 25 percent of duels

    Although Juan Mata contributed a goal and created a chance against Australia, the Manchester United midfielder finds himself at No. 21 because his only 33 minutes in the tournament came in Spain's dead rubber when it was already won. 

    And while Mata is just 26, his recent decline at the club level and the promising wave of Spanish midfield talents ready to take the international stage could threaten his position in the team in the years ahead. 

20. Cesc Fabregas

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    Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

    Games Started: 0

    Substitute Appearances: 2

    Key Stat(s): 1 assist; 2 chances created

    Like Mata, Cesc Fabregas finds himself well down in these rankings due to being used as a substitute when games had already been decided. 

    Against the Dutch, the Chelsea-bound midfielder replaced David Silva in the 78th minute when the score read 4-1, while his second cameo came in the dying stages of La Roja's comfortable win over Australia.

    However, the former Arsenal captain could be ready for an enhanced role in this Spanish squad moving forward, given that he's likely to enjoy a more stable role domestically in 2014-15, while the likes of Xavi and Xabi Alonso are approaching their final years. 

19. Gerard Pique

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): Won only 42 percent of duels; beaten on the dribble 3 times

    There certainly were an array of issues higher up the pitch that heaped a heavy burden on Spain's defence, but Gerard Pique was physically overwhelmed by Arjen Robben and Van Persie against the Dutch. 

    Just as Spain's midfield were exposed for athleticism, Pique's lack of physical strength and tackling ability was taken advantage of by the rampant Dutch forward pairing.

    Dropped for the encounter with Chile, the Barcelona defender was rested for Spain's final game against Australia after picking up an injury in training, as reported by David Kent of the Daily Mail

18. Diego Costa

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Games Started: 2

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): Won only 30 percent of duels; 2 chances created; 0 shots on target

    In the opening 30 minutes against the Dutch, Diego Costa's presence appeared to be a positive for the Spaniards.

    By playing harder against the defensive line, the Brazilian-born striker briefly gave his team an alternative method of attack, as Andres Iniesta and David Silva regularly played in a more direct fashion to Costa.

    However, the Atletico Madrid star rapidly faded out of the game as Spain's midfield lost control and followed up with an almost nonexistent performance against Chile.

    As predicted, the striker's lack of fitness and familiarity with his teammates proved debilitating. 

17. Xavi

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 2 chances created; beaten on the dribble once

    It was a sad end for Xavi, given that it's extremely unlikely the Barcelona great will feature in another major international tournament. 

    Revered for so long, it was hoped that the 34-year-old could shrug aside his declining form in La Liga to power La Roja to one last triumph.

    But it wasn't to be, as the Dutch exposed the veteran's ageing legs and inability to effectively press without the ball, thereby seizing control of the midfield exchanges. 

    Regrettably, Xavi didn't take to the pitch again. 

16. Sergio Busquets

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Games Started: 2

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): Won only 42 percent of duels; beaten on the dribble 5 times; 1 chance created

    Sergio Busquets has long been considered one of the finest holding midfielders in the world, but the Barcelona star was overrun in a manner very similar to a number of his teammates. 

    While his passing accuracy remained extremely high (97.7 percent), the 25-year-old was swarmed upon by the attacking brigades from the Netherlands and Chile, resulting in Busquets being consistently brushed aside by faster and stronger opponents. 

    Although he's technically superior to most, the Spaniard will need to either improve physically or be surrounded by more athletic bodies if he's to remain successful in his holding role. 

15. Pedro

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 1

    Key Stat(s): 3 successful dribbles; 5 turnovers

    Spain endured all sorts of problems down the right flank at this World Cup. 

    While David Silva's creativity was the brightest aspect of the team's showing against the Dutch, his tendency to drift centrally left Del Bosque's men exposed down the length of the sideline.

    Pedro, therefore, was selected to start on the right against Chile but simply couldn't establish any connection with his midfield teammates. 

    Although he added width and pace, regular turnovers tended to be the result of his time on the ball—something the Chileans took full advantage of. 

14. Javi Martinez

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    Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): Won only 44 percent of duels; beaten on the dribble twice

    Javi Martinez was brought in to replace Pique against Jorge Sampaoli's Chile in the hope that the Bayern Munich defender would provide added physicality to the Spanish defence. 

    Instead, the 25-year-old endured many of the same struggles as Chile's unique and aggressive forward formation bombarded Spain's central defensive pairing.

    Unable to win the bulk of his duels and beaten on the dribble like Pique was against the Dutch, Martinez was dropped for La Roja's clash with Australia.  

13. Pepe Reina

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 1 clean sheet

    In truth, Pepe Reina had little to do in his only appearance of the World Cup, keeping a clean sheet against a tired-looking Australian outfit in Spain's final game.

    In the brief moments he was required, however, the Napoli goalkeeper operated far more calmly than Casillas had done in the earlier matches of the tournament, successfully claiming 100 percent of the balls directed his way. 

    And if Casillas' decline continues, Reina could see his role elevated in this Spanish squad.

12. Fernando Torres

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 2

    Key Stat(s): 1 goal; won 8 aerial duels; dispossessed 3 times

    Fernando Torres put forward the sort of performances that most observers expected of him at this World Cup.

    Trusted by Del Bosque, the fading striker did establish a stronger connection with La Roja's midfield than Costa, bringing those around him into play far more with his ability to hold the play up and win one-on-one contests. 

    But as has been evident for years, Torres' confidence in front of goal continues to haunt him, which saw the Chelsea striker make a mess of an obvious chance in the dying stages against the Dutch.

    A neat finish against Australia is all that helps him above the others already mentioned on this list. 

11. Xabi Alonso

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Games Started: 3

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 1 goal; won only 35 percent of duels; 2 turnovers

    Xabi Alonso's performances in Brazil were hardly among his most impressive, but he finds himself at No. 11 on this list because so many before him played sparingly. 

    Although he was a catalyst in Spain's impressive opening half against the Dutch, the Real Madrid star was exposed for pace in the second half of that match and the subsequent encounter against Chile.

    Indeed, it was Alonso's turnover that saw the Chileans take the lead in the pivotal second match—a moment his team weren't able to overcome.

    And while he put in an improved performance against Australia, it won't be much of a consolation for the decorated midfielder. 

10. Santi Cazorla

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 1

    Key Stat(s): 1 chance created; won 57 percent of duels

    Santi Cazorla was one of the few sparks of energy in the Spanish midfield during his pair of appearances at this World Cup.

    In the dying minutes against Chile, the Arsenal maestro looked to be one of the few goalscoring threats for Del Bosque's men, while he was extremely effective in linking up with David Villa against Australia.

    However, Cazorla's chances of representing Spain in Russia in 2018 could be slim, given that he'll be 33 when the tournament arrives. 

9. Cesar Azpilicueta

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Games Started: 2

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 5 tackles; 7 interceptions; won 57 percent of duels; 1 chance created

    Like many of his teammates, Cesar Azpilicueta was far from his best for Spain at this World Cup.

    However, facing a barrage of attacks due to the athletic inadequacies of La Roja's midfield, the Chelsea full-back did an admirable job of halting his opponents where he could.

    Adding to the difficulty of the 24-year-old's task was the immense burden he shouldered in having to cover to full length of the right sideline against the Dutch, given Silva's habit of drifting to the left from his starting position. 

8. Juanfran

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    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 3 tackles; won 56 percent of duels; 1 assist

    In his only game of the World Cup against Australia, Juanfran was among his team's brightest performers.

    Using his pace down the right flank, the Atletico Madrid full-back added another dimension to Spain's attacks by stretching the Socceroos' back four with his attacking mindset and propensity to remain attached to the sideline. 

    That was most evident when Juanfran got in behind Australia left-back Jason Davidson to provide the assist for Villa's goal. 

7. Raul Albiol

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 5 clearances; 5 interceptions; 3 tackles; won 100 percent of duels

    After two matches of chaos, Raul Albiol helped to solidify La Roja's defence against Australia alongside Sergio Ramos.

    While it would be easy to dismiss the performance due to the inferior opponents, it must be remembered that Australia's front three caused a range of headaches for the Dutch and the Chileans in their opening two games.

    Winning all of his duels and regularly halting attacks, Albiol's performance was in stark contrast to those completed by Martinez and Pique. 

6. David Villa

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    Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 1 goal; 2 chances created; 2 successful dribbles

    It was a memorable final performance on the international stage from Villa.

    Despite being overlooked when Spain's tournament was still alive, the veteran forward reminded us of his class by producing a neat backheeled finish to give the Spaniards the lead against Australia.

    Additionally, the New York-bound star consistently threatened Australia's penalty area, running at Ryan McGowan in a way his teammates had been unable to do in earlier games. 

5. Koke

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Games Started: 1

    Substitute Appearances: 1

    Key Stat(s): 10 tackles; won 71 percent of duels; 8 accurate long balls

    Identified prior to the tournament by Del Bosque as the only Spain player with the necessary hunger, Koke showed in Brazil why he'll be a star of La Roja for years to come.

    Introduced in the second half against Chile, the 22-year-old immediately gave the Spaniards more grunt, matching the combative nature of the Chileans with his own forceful tackling and ball-winning skills. 

    Koke's ability to accurately distribute the ball to the flanks was also on show, which, in spite of Spain's failure to score, enhanced the team's attacking threat. 

4. Sergio Ramos

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    Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

    Games Started: 3

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 16 clearances; won 60 percent of duels

    As mentioned with regard to Pique, many of Spain's defensive issues started in midfield rather than at the back.

    But unlike Pique and Martinez, Sergio Ramos still managed to control the bulk of the attacks he faced from the Netherlands and Chile, in particular, while also managing to clear danger more than any other Spanish player.

    Of course, his tournament will be remembered for Robben's blistering run past him. Yet, it shouldn't be forgotten that few defenders possess the leg speed to stop such a run, while that goal (the Netherlands' fifth) had no impact on the outcome of Spain's World Cup campaign. 

3. Jordi Alba

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    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Games Started: 3

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 8 clearances; won 60 percent of duels

    Typically, Jordi Alba is flying down the left sideline for this Spain team, adding width and flair to the side's attacks alongside the gifted midfielders.

    But in Brazil this year, the Barcelona left-back was forced to do significantly more defending, with Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets unable to provide the midfield cover one normally associates with the pair. 

    Alba certainly wasn't outstanding—not one member of this squad was. But unlike many, the 25-year-old won the majority of the contests he faced and was one of Del Bosque's more reliable performers. 

2. David Silva

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Games Started: 2

    Substitute Appearances: 1

    Key Stat(s): 7 chances created; won 79 percent of duels; 4 turnovers

    Silva was one of Del Bosque's only players who was able to exert a creative influence in the attacking areas of the pitch in this World Cup.

    In Spain's opener, it was Silva who created the vast majority of La Roja's early chances when linking up effectively with Costa, while he and Andres Iniesta were the only men to threaten Chile's hold of the match in their second encounter.

    The major concern regarding the Manchester City playmaker, however, continues to centre on how unbalanced and one-sided Spain become when he starts on a flank and moves centrally. 

1. Andres Iniesta

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Games Started: 3

    Substitute Appearances: 0

    Key Stat(s): 1 assist; 6 chances created; 4 successful dribbles

    In Xavi's decline, Andres Iniesta has been the undisputed star of this Spain team—a status that was upheld in Brazil. 

    Amid the malaise of his surrounding teammates, the Barcelona superstar was La Roja's primary attacking threat, consistently finding space between the lines and dribbling past opponents with nonchalant ease.

    If just a few of his decorated Spanish counterparts had touched a similar level, Spain's World Cup campaign could have been very different. 


    All statistics and match data courtesy of and Squawka

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