Picking a Spain Team for the Opening Game of Euro 2016 Qualification
Despite enduring a horrific time in Brazil at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Spain can quickly focus on the defence of another title when their Euro 2016 qualification campaign begins on September 8.
Intriguingly, La Roja will be forced to undergo a period of significant regeneration—a process that hasn't occurred for nearly a decade—in the wake of their early exit in Brazil.
Yet, although icons of Spain's glittering era—players such as Xavi, David Villa, Fernando Torres and, possibly Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso—could sadly wave goodbye, the vast waves of talent emerging in Spain should ensure the country remains near the pinnacle of international football.
Across the following slides, we examine a team that could line up for Spain in their opening Euro 2016 qualification clash against FYR Macedonia in early September.
David De Gea
Club: Manchester United
With Spain ready to look ahead to the next generation of potential stars, David de Gea's inclusion as the first-choice goalkeeper would be a logical option for Vicente del Bosque or his successor.
After a shaky first season at Old Trafford, the talented shot-stopper has grown into a reliable presence in goal at Manchester United and has long been viewed as Iker Casillas' long-term replacement in the national side.
When one considers Casillas' disastrous run of recent form that extends back to the UEFA Champions League final in May, establishing the 23-year-old De Gea as a potential cornerstone of Spain's next era should be a priority.
Club: Real Madrid
The Spain right-back position is well and truly up for grabs after this year's World Cup.
Starting in the team's opening two matches, Cesar Azpilicueta performed an admirable job defensively with strong tackling and interceptions, but he failed to provide the attacking impetus that La Roja desperately need down the right.
Replacing him against Australia, Juanfran provided the spark down the right sideline that is needed, but at 29 years of age, the Atletico Madrid star is unlikely to be viewed as a long-term option in the physically demanding position.
Consequently, the emerging Daniel Carvajal would represent an ideal option after promising seasons in Germany and Spain, capable of offering genuine pace on the right in a new-look Spanish side.
Like Carvajal on the opposite side of the back four, Jordi Alba's speed and attacking threat will be vital components of this Spain side, spreading opposing defences to provide space to Andres Iniesta and co.
Of course, the 25-year-old was far from stellar at this year's World Cup, failing to inject his typical dynamism into this La Roja outfit while also committing some notable defensive errors.
But Alba remains the prototypical modern full-back, capable of holding down the position until the next World Cup at the very least.
Perhaps only the rapid emergence of Alberto Moreno could threaten his position.
Club: Real Madrid
The lasting image of Sergio Ramos' 2014 World Cup campaign will always be Arjen Robben's burning run past the Real Madrid star that resulted in an emphatic fifth goal for the Dutch.
Yet, Spain's defensive frailties in Brazil can't be pinned on the central defender, many of the team's issues instead beginning with an inability to pressure opponents in midfield.
Additionally, Ramos remains one of the most influential defenders in Europe, with his strong aerial skills also making him an extremely potent goal threat at set pieces.
Consequently, the 28-year-old will still be the leader and organiser of the team's defence at Euro 2016.
Club: Bayern Munich
Gerard Pique's decline at both domestic and international levels over the last 12 months has opened the door for Javi Martinez to lock down the second centre-back position.
Physically superior and stronger in the air than Pique, the versatile Bayern Munich star looks set to continue his development as central defender if he remains under Pep Guardiola in Bavaria.
If he does indeed stay with the Bundesliga champions, Martinez can be expected to quickly develop into one of Europe's pre-eminent defenders, which—assuming he combines nicely with Sergio Ramos—should provide La Roja with a strong pairing at the back.
Club: Atletico Madrid
Koke had a profound impact on Spain when he was used as a second-half substitute by Vicente del Bosque against Chile.
With a relentless work rate and a strong physical presence, the precocious Atletico Madrid talent added significant grunt to La Roja's midfield.
After being identified by the manager prior to the tournament as the only member of the Spanish squad possessing the required desire, it seems inevitable that Koke will become one the key members of Spain's midfield for the next decade.
If his promising World Cup performances are anything to go by, the 22-year-old should be among the continent's most influential players at Euro 2016.
Despite some alarmingly poor performances in Brazil, Sergio Busquets remains Spain's best holding midfield option.
With unparalleled passing abilities in his position, the 25-year-old will continue to be the man La Roja deploy to provide a safety net for those ahead of him.
However, for Busquets to ensure his own effectiveness in the years ahead, one of two things need to occur: Either more athleticism is required around him, or he himself must improve his own physical attributes to prevent being exposed by the high-octane methods used by Netherlands and Chile at this year's World Cup.
Given that Koke, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara look set to feature heavily in Spain's Euro 2016 campaign, the former looks more likely.
With Xavi and Xabi Alonso seemingly ready to make way for more youthful stars, Cesc Fabregas is well placed to enjoy a significantly increased role on the international stage.
Additionally, the former Arsenal captain's move to Chelsea should help to settle the 27-year-old into a primary midfield position following three unsettled seasons at Barcelona.
Fabregas' Premier League roots should also suit the more swift and direct approach that can be expected from Spain after their demise in Brazil, meaning he's likely to be a far better fit for the national team than he's been previously.
Of course, the Chelsea-bound midfielder will see strong competition from Thiago Alcantara, but the Bayern Munich star's recovery from a knee injury should mean Fabregas gets the nod in the first Euro 2016 qualifier.
If Jese Rodriguez wasn't still recovering from a serious knee injury, he'd be making a strong case for selection as forward in Spain's team for their opening Euro 2016 qualifier.
However, in the 21-year-old's injury layoff, Pedro looks like Spain's logical option to add pace and width to the right side of La Roja's front three.
Although the 26-year-old struggled to make an impact in his team's World Cup campaign, the Barcelona forward remains one of the Spaniards' X-factors given how his qualities are contrasting to those held by many of his teammates.
Indeed, when Vicente del Bosque's side has been at their most potent, the pace of either Pedro, Jesus Navas or Jordi Alba has been extremely influential in stretching Spain's opponents.
Club: Atletico Madrid
Diego Costa's time in Brazil certainly won't be judged as a success, but there are plenty of reasons to persist with the Brazilian-born striker.
While the 25-year-old looked uncomfortable in Spain's system, Costa's World Cup campaign was heavily affected by his lack of match fitness and the team's methods not aligning with his strengths.
Following La Roja's disaster in Brazil, it can be expected that Spain will look to alter the team's recipe in attack, possibly playing in a more direct manner with greater urgency than the approach that has typically been on show.
Should that occur, Costa—by far the most prolific striker available to Spain—will be far better suited to this Spanish team and could use the qualification process as a valuable learning curve ahead of the competition's finals in two years' time.
Andres Iniesta is the undisputed star of this Spain team, which was reflected in his performances for the nation in Brazil.
Despite the bulk of his teammates failing to reach a standard anywhere near their best, the Barcelona phenomenon continually provided the bulk of the Spaniards' attacking threat, cutting through defences with perfectly placed passes and gliding past opponents on the ball with ease.
It's also possible that Iniesta will benefit from greater athleticism surrounding him at Euro 2016, given that the ageing Xavi and Xabi Alonso are likely to be replaced by fresher legs.
Thus, the 30-year-old will avoid the curtain falling down on some of his contemporaries to prolong his stay at the top of world football.
Note: The 4-3-3 formation highlighted here differs from Spain's typical 4-2-3-1 used during tournaments. But La Roja have regularly deployed a 4-3-3 during qualification rounds, hence it's use here.
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