With a potent mix of hungry youngsters and seasoned veterans who have already triumphed at international tournaments, Spain boasts of all the ingredients to re-establish itself as the best team in the world in Russia and reclaim the crown it won in 2010.
Spain was seemingly invincible for four years with three successive tournament wins playing mouth-watering football, but since winning Euro 2012, it has flopped in its last two tournaments under coach Vicente del Bosque. His successor Julen Lopetegui, a stalwart of the national teams youth programme, has helped to re-ignite its attacking verve and restored the belief they can conquer the world again.
Spain tore its way through its World Cup qualifying group, winning nine out of 10 games while scoring 36 times and outclassing Italy 3-0. In a friendly outing against Argentina, it stunned everyone with a 6-1 win.
Weaknesses are hard to find in Spain’s squad, which is packed with players from La Liga heavyweights Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and outstanding Premier League performers such as Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and Manchester City playmaker David Silva.
Silva, midfield puppet master Andres Iniesta and captain Sergio Ramos have been in the team since the Euro 2008 triumph while Barcelona pairing Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique have been around since the 2010 World Cup win in South Africa. Then there are the next generation of players such as Atletico’s Koke, Real’s Isco and Dani Carvajal, Valencia forward Rodrigo and Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara as well as De Gea who won the under-21 European Championship in 2013 with Lopetegui as coach.
“A lot of the players have been in the national team since they were children and that’s important for me because since a young age they’ve been used to going to international tournaments, playing against the best from every country,” Lopetegui said. “The best team is always the best mix of different generations; we have that and we’ll try and make sure it’s a good mix.”
Spain has been handed a tough draw. European champion Portugal is first up in Group B — a match which is likely to decide who will finish top.
It also faces Iran and Morocco. If Spain win the group, it is likely to face either Uruguay or Egypt in the last 16, with a possible quarter-final against Argentina, Croatia or France coming next.
Isco adds flair to attack
While Isco has failed to convince coach Zinedine Zidane he is worthy of regular selection for Real Madrid, this could yet prove a blessing in disguise for Spain’s World Cup hopes in Russia.
Coach Julian Lopetegui will be able to benefit not only from the playmaker’s freshness but also his determination to prove his quality after a frustrating season on a personal level at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Over the World Cup qualifying campaign, Isco became increasingly crucial to Spain, delivering some of the best performances in his career. The 26-year-old’s most impressive display came against Italy, when he scored twice in a 3-0 win for La Roja that put it in a commanding position in Group G and effectively forced its opponents into the play-offs. While no single player can be considered indispensable for Spain, Isco still adds a magic touch that delights supporters and bewitches defences.
PREVIOUS TOURNAMENTS: Spain has played in 14 World Cups and qualified for every edition since 1978. It has won it once, beating the Netherlands 1-0 in the 2010 final in South Africa with an extra-time strike from Andres Iniesta.
Before then, it had reached the quarter-finals in 1934, 1986, 1994 and 2002 but lost every time. As holder, It suffered a shock elimination from the group stage in 2014.
PROSPECTS: If things go to plan, Spain will have a possible quarter-final against Argentina, Croatia or France. Given the talent in the squad and its form under Lopetegui, a semi-final appearance should be the minimal target, although it will feel confident it can go all the way.
FORM GUIDE: It comprehensively beat Franc and Belgium in international friendlies an proved its credentials b ripping apart Argentina 6-1 in their last outing