Spain has a new coach since its triumph in 2008, with ex-Real Madrid coach Vicente Del Bosque replacing Luis Aragones.
Though Del Bosque has replicated Aragones’ success at consistently coaching a winning team, he has drastically altered Spain’s highly effective midfield.
At Euro 2008, Spain generally fielded Xavi Hernandez alongside Villarreal holding midfielder Marcos Senna in the center of the park, flanked by David Silva and Andres Iniesta.
Del Bosque’s major change was to leave the 33-year old Senna, whose club season had been plagued by injury, out of his 23-man roster.
Barcelona’s classy young ball-winner Sergio Busquets has filled the role of midfield enforcer effectively, but it is the presence of Xavi Alonso alongside him that has caused controversy amongst Spain’s fans and media.
Even the ex-coach Aragones had weighed into the debate, claiming that Spain should not need a second deep-lying midfielder and that Alonso should be dropped.
The brilliant Barcelona duo of Xavi and Iniesta have retained their place in the side and there is an argument that the presence of Alonso disrupts the rhythm and understanding the other three have built up by playing together at club level.
Alonso’s main strength is his accurate long passing and in theory he should give Spain an alternative strategy if its famous tici-taca short game isn’t working.
However, the fact that David Silva has been sidelined to make way for him means that Spain lack the natural width that stretches an opponent’s defense, leaving gaps for Alonso’s pinpoint passing to exploit.
Spain’s midfield has certainly not looked as polished as the team that beat Germany to win Euro 2008, but the World Cup semifinal rematch is a chance for them to prove the doubters wrong.