Coach: Vicente del Bosque
Current European Champions
One to Watch: Cesc Fabregas
As we approach the summer of 2012 all of our minds, well most of them at least, will turn away from the domestic football competitions within our own countries, towards the International arena for the eagerly awaited European Championship Finals, to be held in Poland and the Ukraine. At It’s All In The Game, I shall be profiling each of the 16 finalists who will bid to become the champions of Europe until 2016.
We continue our team profiles by taking a look at current European and World Champions, Spain. Spain have a rich history in terms of appearing in major, international tournaments, appearing thirteen times in the World Cup and eight times in the European Championships-the latter of which they won back in 1964 when it was known as the European Nations Cup.
However, over the years Spanish teams had found that success hard to emulate, making only one appearance in a tournament final over the next 43 years-namely the final of Euro 84, where they lost to France. This lack of success, in spite of the wealth of footballing talent that they always had at their disposal, led them to be thought of as “perennial underachievers” and many in football believed they might never have won a major tournament again.
In 2006 however, something changed in Spanish football. Having been knocked out of the World Cup in Germany by a strong French team, coach Luis Aragones, decided that his team were not physical enough to be able to out muscle opponents. He turned his attention to a style of play that focussed on controlling games by dominating possession, using short passes and movement to break through defences.
This style of play is known as “tiki taka”, it was first brought to Spain by Johann Cruyff in his spell as Barcelona boss (1988-96), and has been described by some as an upgrade to the “total football” made famous by the magnificent Dutch team of the 1970’s. The impact was almost immediate, and since the adoption of the “tiki taka” policy, Spain have not only won the 2008 European Championships under Aragones, but also the 2010 World Cup under current coach del Bosque.
This time around, for obvious reasons, Spain will travel to Poland and Ukraine as pre-tournament favourites. Vicente del Bosque has led them to 28 victories in 30 competitive matches since he took over before the qualifiers for World Cup 2010, including a 100% record in qualification for Euro 2012 – seeing them top group 1 on 24 points.
Their style of football, ability on the ball, speed of thought, movement and the abundance of talent and quality throughout the squad, make them the team to beat. In Iker Cassillas they have a goalkeeper, though still young, who has a wealth of experience both with Real Madrid and with the national side, winning the Golden Glove in South Africa.
In David Villa they have a clinical, skilful, striker who links up effortlessly with the midfield to create chances as well as being ruthless in front of goal himself. Villa was joint top scorer World Cup 2010, top scorer in Euro 2008 and has every chance of scooping that accolade again this summer.
However Villa suffered a broken leg earlier this season and has been out of action for the past six or seven months. He was widely expected to be included in the final squad, however, he has lost his battle to be fit. Fernando Torres and Fernando Llorente, Villa’s likely cover, are both accomplished strikers who’ve had contrasting seasons at Chelsea and Athletic Bilbao respectively. Torres pitch time has been limited but he did score the vital goal in Chelsea’s Champions’ League semi-final win over Barcelona, whilst Llorente, a natural starter at Athletic, helped guide his club to a UEFA Europa League final.
Spain have an embarrassment of footballing riches, especially in midfield, but if there’s one man in particular who could really make his mark on the tournament this time, it’s Cesc Fabregas. The former Arsenal man captained his country at under-17 level and has developed year on year ever since.
Although playing in England in a position which the Spanish side have had well covered in recent years has seen him miss out on more action than he would have liked, his move to Barcelona at the beginning of the season has seen him come into his own, notching 15 goals in his first La Liga campaign. His return to his home club has seen the central midfielder/playmaker flourish and has alerted del Bosque to the qualities that he can bring to the national side.
In conclusion, Spain are the favourites for a reason and it’s going to take a monumental effort to prevent them from retaining their title this time around. Spain are drawn in group c along with Italy, Croatia and Ireland, they face-off against the Italians first.
Provided La Roja don’t contrive to lose against the Azzuri then qualification will be assured and I’d expect them to top the group. Germany and Holland will be the biggest threats in Poland/Ukraine but neither can meet Spain until the semi-final stage at least. Even then they will have to be at their very best if they are to succeed in beating the Spanish where so many, including themselves, have failed before.
Cesc image by PanArmenianphoto. Parade image by Cabezadeturco.