Spain International Injuries Torres, Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta Worry the Squad

George HouseContributor IMay 7, 2010

PARIS - FRANCE- MARCH 03:  Spain players pose for a team photo before the France v Spain International Friendly match at the Stade de France on March 3, 2010 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

The World Cup is just five short weeks away and the planet’s temperature is beginning to rise not only with the phenomenon of global climate change, but also with Football Fever.

Commercials and advertising events are beginning to increase in frequency and K’Naan’s Waving Flag—Coca-Cola's promotional anthem for this summer’s events in South Africa—is beginning to dominate airwaves as domestic leagues come to their season’s end.

On June 11, the beautiful game’s summer blossom is set to flourish and the world is anxiously waiting for its sweet aroma.  

Since La Furia Roja conquered Europe in 2008, the country of Spain has been delirious with national football. While La Seleccion have in the past been a source of controversy among Spain’s autonomy-seeking provinces such as Galicia, Catalunya, and the Basque Country—the latter two have even petitioned FIFA for their own separate "national teams"—the Euro 2008 squad’s triumph, their first trophy in 44 years, saw the whole of Spain stand unified under one flag. 

Featuring players from every corner of the country, the Spanish national team have gone from a perennial disappointment to a source of radiant pride for Spaniards and after a flawless World Cup Qualifying Stage that garnered La Roja a top FIFA ranking, the whole of Iberia is bursting with excitement for their team’s prospects in South Africa 2010. 

But in the past month, supporters of Vicente del Bosque’s team have seen the bubble of enthusiasm deflate a bit and in its stead, a cloud of nervousness and uncertainty has settled. The source of this dip in confidence is, of course, founded in injuries.  

April Showers, Indeed

During the month of April, some of Spain’s most influential stars sustained serious injuries that could put their World Cup hopes in doubt or potentially handicap their returns.  

Fernando Torres was forced to undergo knee surgery that conservative estimates say will keep him out of La Roja’s first group stage match. Cesc Fabregas is currently out with a broken leg, although he is anticipated to recover in time. Andres Iniesta is out for six weeks with a hamstring tear, but is scheduled to return on schedule. 

This past week the Spanish media’s headlines have been dominated by news that Xavi Hernandez is currently playing with a calf tear that, if aggravated, could force him to miss the World Cup altogether. Finally, in Barcelona’s match last night against Tenerife, Gerard Pique had to be substituted after sustaining an injury to his knee, of which the severity is yet unknown. 

In a team that have become renowned for the brilliance of their passing midfield, these injuries generate major concerns with respect to La Roja’s prospects of lifting their first ever World Cup trophy come June. Xavi’s injury is particularly alarming as the Euro 2008 Player of the Tournament is widely considered to be the most creative midfielder, or at least the best midfield conductor in the world.  

Granted all of the players in question are scheduled to make full recoveries in time for South Africa, but their form upon returning to action leaves much to speculation and entering an elite competition like the World Cup on the heels of injury could find del Bosque’s squad unable to find their usual brand of mouthwatering one-touch passing.

But that is not to say that Spain is talentless in the absence of such players. Even if their immensely gifted midfielders are not yet ready to return to full action, with internationals like David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Marcos Senna, Juan Mata, and Sergio Busquets, Spain certainly have the ability to cover their midfield least through their group stage. 

But what does del Bosque do in the event that Xavi, Cesc, Iniesta, Torres, or Pique are not fit enough to play in this summer’s premier tournament? While it is nearly inconceivable that all of these world-class talents would be injured at once, Spain does have a history of bad luck and it certainly is an unfortunate coincidence that these players have already suffered serious injuries just weeks before this June’s competition.

Too Late For An Audition?

While Pique is an invaluable member of the back line, Raul Albiol, Carlos Marchena, and even Sergio Ramos are more than capable of pairing with Carles Puyol to create a world-class central defense.  

Up front, David Villa is Spain’s primary striker, but El Guaje’s form has also been alarmingly unproductive of late as he has not scored a goal from open play since April 4 (having netted one penalty since).

Such a drought is nearly unheard of for a striker of Villa’s quality and if it continues into the summer and he needs to be withdrawn for another goalscoring threat, it is difficult to see Dani Guiza heading the frontline. The aging striker has put in impressive performances in the past for La Roja, but not featuring in an elite league could affect his ability to play effectively on the most competitive stage on the planet. 

Instead, perhaps Fernando Llorente merits a return to the national team after being dropped for Alvaro Negredo in the qualifying stages and in the subsequent international friendlies.

The towering Basque has been in hot form over the past few months and has publicly declared his desire to re-earn a spot in the Spain squad. Negredo has done well for Spain and could be considered in Guiza’s stead, but it would be difficult to say that Llorente has not merited a reserve role this summer and should be considered ahead of both Guiza and Negredo. 

The midfield is where the injuries that could potentially handicap Spain would take their most significant toll.  Alonso, Silva, Senna, Mata, and Busquets have had experience playing together for their country and all have great quality, but Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas’s potential absences could deprive Spain of some much-needed teeth in the attacking midfield.  

Having suffered a serious injury early this year, Santi Cazorla seems to have lost his wing role in the squad, a place that was recently filled by Sevilla’s Jesus Navas. But Navas’s form has seen a considerable dip since he suffered an ankle injury in late March that kept him out for two weeks. Instead, a real case must be made for Barca’s Pedro Rodriguez to fill the wide role.  

The 76th minute of last night’s match between Barcelona and Tenerife exemplified, in the span of one minute, why Pedro, at just 22 years old, deserves a call-up to play in this summer’s World Cup. 

With the score at 2-1, Tenerife were set to mount a counterattack as a midfielder found a passing lane through Barca’s back line and put the ball into space for Mikel Alonso to run onto.

The Tenerife midfielder was almost on the ball to face Victor Valdes in a one-on-one opportunity when Pedro burst past him, even outrunning right-back Dani Alves, to slide in and win back possession for the Blaugrana. The defensive effort brought chants from the Camp Nou stands of “Pedro! Pedro!” in appreciation of the youngster’s tireless effort.  

Moments later, Pedro was sprinting down the other end of the pitch, receiving a through pass from Messi and slotting the ball into the back of the net to put the match out of reach. The chants returned, this time far louder. 

While del Bosque might be taking a risk in calling up a footballer who has never played at the senior international level in a high-stakes competition like the World Cup, Pedro’s tenacity on both ends of the pitch and his ability to score under pressure (he became the first player in history to score in six separate competitions in a single year) make him the perfect Jack of All Trades in the squad.

At the very least, the Spain coach should consider including Pedro in his provisional squad before this summer’s official competition list is to be released.  

While he’s at it, del Bosque might want to consider Victor Valdes for the third goalkeeper position as well as the Barca keeper has shown vast improvements this season, enough to put him over Diego Lopez.

And if Xavi, Iniesta, and Cesc are forced to miss significant time or the World Cup altogether, one would hope the coach has considered some contingencies in the midfield. Valencia’s Pablo Hernandez has some international experience at senior level. Perhaps Pedro Leon or Esteban Granero have also earned a second look in the case of an emergency.

Spain will certainly hope it doesn’t come to that, but in a country where, even in light of recent successes, nothing is taken for granted, one has to consider all the possibilities