Picking the Spain Squad for the 2018 World Cup

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

Picking the Spain Squad for the 2018 World Cup

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    Spain will hope the four years between now and the next World Cup sees the side rebuilt in time to challenge for Russia 2018.

    Their performance in Brazil this summer has been nothing short of embarrassing and drastic changes will happen as a new team emerges from the ashes of the old one.

    While the immediate goal is to be competitive by Euro 2016, a fully fledged team could be good enough to wrestle the world title back off of whoever wins it this year.

    This is an early look at what the squad might be like.

No. 1 Goalkeeper: David De Gea

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    By the time World Cup 2014 rolls around, David De Gea will be in his prime at 27.

    The Manchester United goalkeeper will hope to be Spain's No 1 by then.

    Given Iker Casillas' demise at this World Cup, he could even lay claim to the position as soon as September, when the Euro 2016 qualifiers begin.

    He may have been able to make his international tournament debut this summer, but for an injury that prevented him from featuring against Australia.

    Instead Pepe Reina played, with Casillas dropped to the bench.

    It would be surprising to say the least if either of those two made it to Russia 2018.

Back-Up Stoppers: Sergio Asenjo and Jordi Masip

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    There is not a string of excellent, young, Spanish goalkeepers behind David De Gea.

    Sergio Asenjo will be 28 at the start of the next World Cup and looks most likely to be back-up, even though he currently has not been capped by Spain.

    The Atletico Madrid goalkeeper has been on loan at Villarreal and, while not bad, he is not among La Liga's finest stoppers either.

    Jordi Masip, meanwhile, has been impressing at Barcelona B and in four years may get to play some more in La Liga.

    There are no guarantees about his future and with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo purchased by the Catalan giants, it may lie away from the Camp Nou.

    However, with the right loan spells and a possible transfer, Masip could be in the 2018 World Cup squad.

Left Back: Jordi Alba

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    Barcelona's Jordi Alba will be 29 at the next World Cup and, barring a drop in form, he will still be in the squad.

    Unless anyone steps up, then he should still be the best left-back La Roja have. 

    He's first choice now and there's not a lot of reason to suspect that will change by 2018.

    Alba is a strong attacker and not bad defensively, even if sometimes he could improve at the latter by curtailing his instincts to be the former.

Right Back: Cesar Azpilicueta

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    The Chelsea man has a lot more competition than Alba for his role.

    Dani Carvajal at Real Madrid is a strong contender to be in the side by 2018, but at the moment Cesar Azpilicueta is ahead.

    Under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, he has really flourished and is also versatile, able to play at left-back.

    In fact, that's where he spent the majority of last season.

    Azpilicueta did not enjoy his first major tournament in the side that lost both of their games to the Netherlands and Chile.

    Individually, he was not notably bad, but he could do nothing to help stem the tide as the Dutch put five past Spain.

Reserve Full-Backs: Dani Carvajal and Alejandro Grimaldo

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    Spain may only decide to take one reserve full-back if Azpilicueta is going, as he can cover both flanks.

    Dani Carvajal will be the first name on the list, provided the Real Madrid star continues to grow and impress at his current rate.

    Sevilla's Albert Moreno is also an option. The left-back enjoyed a strong season as his side won the Europa League and could be a major player in four years' time.

    However, there will always be players breaking through who might make the cut and Barcelona's Alejandro Grimaldo looks quite the talent.

    The left-sided defender is only 18 now but has made his Spain U21 debut.

    He plays for Barca B and has impressed in almost every outing.

    While it is a gamble to say he will make the squad ahead of Moreno, his current ability belies his tender age.

Centre-Back: Sergio Ramos

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    The Real Madrid veteran will have turned 32 just before the 2018 World Cup and not only could he still be in the side, but he may be the captain.

    He has the pride and passion for the game that others lack and has shown interest in taking the armband when required.

    Ramos will offer the team vital experience as they fight for the world title in Russia.

Centre-Back: Marc Bartra

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    The partnership between Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique was terrible in Brazil.

    That's not to say Vicente del Bosque is going to break it up, but other players should certainly get a look in.

    By Russia 2018, Marc Bartra could and perhaps should be partnering Pique for Barcelona.

    Bartra will be 27 when Russia 2018 comes around and one would hope he has fulfilled on his immense potential by then.

    Pique has not been at the top of his game recently for club or country and, while he has plenty of time to get it right, perhaps he has lost some of his hunger for success over the years.

Reserve Centre-Backs: Gerard Pique and Inigo Martinez

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    Real Sociedad's Inigo Martinez and Barcelona's Gerard Pique complete our list of defenders.

    The latter is currently first choice and will be 31 when the World Cup comes around, an experienced head.

    As discussed, he may or may not be behind Marc Bartra.

    Martinez, meanwhile, is a real prospect. He may be plying his trade at a top club in four years' time.

    The centre-back will be 27 and entering his prime years.

    Of the current young Spanish defenders out there, he looks most likely to rival Bartra for a place in the side.

    Perhaps he will even partner him, if he continues to develop.

Defensive Midfield: Sergio Busquets

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    Barcelona's Sergio Busquets is arguably the best in the world at what he does.

    He puts out fires, wins the ball back and gets attacks started for Barcelona.

    Busquets is better than you would imagine in possession too, able to move up the field and play incisive passes.

    This was not a good World Cup for him, but at 29 in 2018 he will be in his prime and surely still a key part of Spain's setup.

Central Midfield: Koke

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    Many have touted him as a natural successor to Xavi for Spain.

    He has excellent technical ability but, as shown in Atletico Madrid's powerful side this season, he can put himself about too.

    Physically strong, Koke can play against thuggish midfields and hold his own.

    He was given a start against Australia in Spain's only World Cup win, and at 22, has plenty of potential to fulfill.

    While nobody may ever be able to replicate the amazing, almost mechanical passing quality of Xavi, the longer Koke has to try and match him, the better.

    It's easy to see him becoming an important player for La Roja sooner rather than later.

Central Midfield: Thiago Alcantara

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    Thiago is the player that Barcelona should never have let go.

    He has already become a key part of Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich side, which won the Bundesliga and the German Cup last season.

    Thiago would have gone to the World Cup this season, but for an unfortunate injury.

    Barring similar trouble, he will be straight back in the Spain squad as soon as he is fit.

    At only 23, expect to see him troubling defences for Spain for the next decade. 

Reserve Central Midfielders: Javi Martinez and Asier Illarramendi

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    Thiago Alcantara's Bayern Munich colleague Javi Martinez is versatile, able to play at centre-back and in defensive midfield.

    Such flexibility is always welcome in the squad, even if he cannot hold down a first-team place.

    He will be nearing 30 at Russia 2018 so, by then, he may even have forced his way into the Spain starting line-up.

    Meanwhile, Real Madrid's Asier Illarramendi has plenty of potential.

    He has not had a good season, not often given the chance to play given the form of Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria.

    The 24-year-old must improve to get in the Russia 2018 squad but, of course, has plenty of time.

    Real would not have invested nearly £30 million in him for nothing. 

Right Wing: Gerard Deulofeu

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    This selection is far from certain, but Gerard Deulofeu has shown touches of genius so far in his career.

    Consistency is lacking and he has a tendency to be selfish, but if his game can be corrected on these fronts, then he will have the world at his feet.

    Deulofeu should get some chances with Barcelona this season to show what he can do.

    Whether or not he makes to the required level to start in a World Cup with Spain is unknown, but he certainly has the potential.

    He is dynamic, direct and has just a touch of that magic that was lacking in Brazil. 

Left Wing: Jese

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    Although the Real Madrid forward would probably prefer to start as a central striker, his pace is useful in wide areas.

    He has got most of his opportunities so far on the left for his club, and he was an outside bet to make the Spain squad this summer, but for injury.

    Jese is 21 now and could potentially have two World Cups in him, provided he progresses at his current rate.

    It's hard not to see him becoming a real star on the global stage.

Reserve Wide Players: Pedro, Andres Iniesta

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    These Barcelona stars could still be in the team by Russia 2018.

    Pedro will be 30 and Andres Iniesta a veteran at 34.

    The latter may be too old to play at the tournament, but he is a consummate professional and will keep himself in good shape.

    The former is also a model pro and always behaves well despite not always being given the praise he often deserves.

    Useful, inventive players like these will always be welcome in a national squad.

Striker: Diego Costa

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    Now Diego Costa's moved to Chelsea, all bets are off because we know what happens to strikers who move to Stamford Bridge.

    But, barring a huge decline in form and fitness, Costa can be the frontman for Spain at the next World Cup.

    This one was far from enjoyable for him, starting two games and not impressing in either.

    However, he still needs to get to know his team-mates inside out, and adapt to Spain's style.

    Costa will be 29 in 2018 and ready for one more shot at the World Cup.

Reserve Forwards: Rodrigo, Isco

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    If Diego Costa doesn't cut the mustard, we could see the Benfica youngster Rodrigo take the stage.

    Real Madrid's Isco is also an option as a false nine, and he could be useful in his usual attacking midfield role if Spain change their style.

    Isco and Rodrigo, at 22 and 23 respectively, are promising young players and look more likely than any others of their age to contend for a place in the squad for the tournament in Russia.

    A lot depends on if they keep maturing, but for now, they are impressing when given the chance.

The Squad

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    Goalkeepers (3): De Gea, Asenjo, Masip

    Defenders (8): Alba, Grimaldo, Azpilicueta, Carvajal, Pique, Ramos, I Martinez, Bartra

    Central midfielders (5): Koke, Illarramendi, Busquets, Thiago, J Martinez

    Wide players and forwards (7): Jese, Rodrigo, Costa, Pedro, Iniesta, Isco, Deulofeu


    There are of course, plenty of other young players who may get into the squad.

    The likes of Ander Herrera, Ander Iturraspe, Alvaro Morata and Alberto Moreno will all have the chance to stake their claim for a space in the side.

    Vicente del Bosque, or whoever replaces him, will have a tricky task deciding who to pick, but that's the very best kind of problem.