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article imageOp-Ed: Spain set their eyes on World Cup glory and the record books

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jun 5, 2014 in Sports
Very few would predict that subsequent to breaking their 44-year silverware drought, Vicente del Bosque’s men would go on an emphatic run that has positioned Spain to be regarded as the greatest international side in the history of the sport.
La Roja’s triumph over Italy in Kiev was arguably the greatest international final performance to date, as Spain became the first side to win three major tournaments in succession. While it appears that del Bosque’s men have broken all the significant records at the international level, Spain will receive the opportunity to become the first European team to win the World Cup on South American soil.
Spain, however, won’t enter this summer’s World Cup as tournament favourites.
Despite boasting the best squad and starting eleven, many believe Spain’s magnificent run will derail in Brazil. The Spanish have been harshly ridiculed for playing “boring” football in recent years, and many will highlight their disappointing showing in the Confederations Cup despite reaching the finals.
Ultimately it was a great experience for del Bosque ahead of this year’s festivities, as the Spaniard will have better knowledge on how to astutely manage his side throughout the rigorous weather conditions in Brazil. A key element in Spain’s Confederation Cup run last summer was del Bosque’s decision to align his side in a 4-3-3 due to the absence of Xabi Alonso. Although Spain’s offence were fluid in the final third, del Bosque’s side was vulnerable to quick, direct counter-attacks.
Del Bosque, though, will likely return to his patented 4-2-3-1 with only Alvaro Arbeloa, Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo being excluded –– the trio were the only players in the Euro 2012 squad that del Bosque omitted.
The major difference between the squad that succeeded in Kiev is the inclusion of striker Diego Costa, who opted to play for Spain over Brazil. While Costa appears to fill the vacant no.9 role, there are still questions over whether the 25-year-old can adapt to Spain’s patient possession-based style.
On paper, Costa’s 36 goals appear to be the solution to Spain’s striker issue, but the 25-year-old’s display against Italy highlighted that he may not be La Roja’s definitive solution. At Atletico, Costa often drops deep to link play before charging into the channels or behind the oppositions defence. Although Costa thrives in Simeone’s counterattacking system, most sides will prefer to sit deeper and force Spain to break them down. Costa most recently struggled under these circumstances against Italy and Chelsea, and it’s likely that Cesc Fabregas will still play a false-nine role at some point in the tournament.
In a season where reactive football appears to be the most effective style, Spain will be aiming to silence the cynics that quickly jump to the conclusion that tiki-taka is dead following disappointing results.
Over the past four years teams have contained Spain’s strengths, but they haven’t found a way to defeat La Roja. Under del Bosque, Spain has failed to find a consistent attacking system, but the 63-year-old has utilized his options on the bench to perfection. Look no further than the impact Jesus Navas and Pedro Rodriguez have had with their pace and ability to stretch the pitch, or his decision to introduce Llorente against Portugal in the round of 16 in South Africa. The former’s omission –– due to injury –– could prove costly in Brazil, as he’s served a reliable option off the bench. Navas’ pace and willingness to stretch the pitch has altered many games for Spain in the past, and his absence leaves Pedro as del Bosque’s sole wide option.
Equally with the midfield likely to pick itself –– despite missing key midfielder Thiago Alcantara –– there’s still question over Xavi’s ability to match the levels he reached in South Africa, and whether Koke can reproduce his club form at the international level.
The other slight concern the reigning world champion’s encounter is their options at the back. Iker Casillas’ role behind Diego Lopez at Real Madrid means the Spaniard will lack match sharpness heading into the tournament, and it was displayed in his decision-making in Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph, as the Spaniard was at fault for Atletico’s goal. Likewise, Cesar Azpilicueta, Jordi Alba, and Juanfran will provide adequate service at fullback. David Silva and Andres Iniesta are likely to start in wide roles, so it’s crucial that Spain possess two-way full backs to provide width.
At times the neutrals have been left frustrated, and classified Spain’s intent to dominate possession as futile because of their slow passing tempo and lack of penetration.
However, those who complain about La Roja's preferred style can’t deny their success.
The days of being the team that never could has faded into obscurity.
They’re winners.
Del Bosque’s side has stuck to their philosophy despite the criticism thrown at them, utilizing possession as their best offence and defence.
Spain’s ability to control games through possession has seen them fail to concede a goal in the knockout round –– 10 games –– since Euro 2008.
Surely they may not appear as mystic as they did two years ago, but in terms of contenders, only Brazil and Argentina have improve significantly.
"I don't think we've declined," Silva stated. "It's very difficult to maintain that level after so many years, especially after winning three trophies, that nobody has done."
Once again all eyes will be on Spain, as they’ll be eager to set more records in Brazil, and continue to add more silverware to this dominant era.
Del Bosque will have to improve on his game management based on the country’s vigorous temperatures, getting Costa to adapt to his system, and finding a consistent balanced system going forward.
“I believe we can [win the World Cup again],” del Bosque stated this week. “They [the team] are older with experience. To win the biggest tournament, you need a proper balance of youth and experience –– and we have it.”
"The players may have won three big tournaments on the trot, yet, they are hungry to win more.”
Spain still possesses all the tools to claim an unprecedented fourth consecutive major honour, and become the first side to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.
Write them off at your own peril.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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