Spain's stars will have to battle familiarity and fatigue as they look to win their third major international tournament in a row.
Four years ago, Spain made history at the Euros, finally ending 44 years of pain and misery as the perennial under-achievers of international football. Now they arrive at Euro 2012 as defending champions and World Cup winners, looking to become the first side to win three major international trophies in a row.
It is no surprise that Spain are the favourites once again, with the core of the squad that has cemented their dominance in world football still at its prime. Their quality and strength in depth is unmatched, and when on song, Vicente Del Bosque’s side, with their dynamic passing and movement, can make it hard for any team to even get the ball. They won all eight of their qualifiers for Euro 2012 with ease, and have only ever lost two competitive matches under Del Bosque - to the United States in the 2009 Confederations Cup and to Switzerland in their opening game of the 2010 World Cup.
While the motivation of a team that has already achieved so much is not in doubt, there are some concerns that fatigue will be a big factor for the players who come into the tournament after gruelling campaigns with their club sides Real Madrid and Barcelona, the latter having played the Copa del Rey final just over two weeks ago. Spain’s preparations have also been hit by injuries to key players, and while Xavi and Cesc Fabregas seem to have recovered, Carles Puyol and David Villa will be a big miss, even for a squad brimming with so much talent.
Del Bosque is spoilt for choice in midfield, though Barca teammates Xavi and Andres Iniesta will once again be expected to help Spain dictate play with their vision, control and pin-point passing. Not all of Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Juan Mata and Fabregas will get to play every game, but any combination will still make them one of the best in the tournament.
Up front, Villa has been Spain’s topscorer in Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and even during qualifying, yet Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente, Pedro and Alvaro Negredo are more than capable of providing the goals. Llorente especially had an impressive season with Athletic Bilbao, his strength, aerial ability and finishing skills raising interest among Europe’s top clubs. Meanwhile, after being in danger of losing his place, a rejuvenated Torres – who scored for his national team for the first time in a year in the warm-up against South Korea – could make the difference, having shown signs of rediscovering his confidence and form after a miserable time at Chelsea.
Defence is perhaps the only relatively weak spot for Spain, despite the ever-dependable Iker Casillas, also his country’s most capped player, in goal. The influential and experienced Puyol’s absence will be felt on the field as well as in the dressing room, and he is likely to be replaced by Sergio Ramos to partner Gerard Pique in centre, with Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba forming the rest of the back-line.
Spain have been placed in a tough group with Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland, and while they will be expected to come through, becoming the first team to win two successive Euros will not be easy. Just as with Barcelona, opponents are slowly figuring out ways to frustrate Spain by resorting to defensive-minded tactics that can work well in a ‘cup competition’. If the Spanish stars can overcome this challenge as well as their own weariness, their quality and experience could see them make history again. “Winning for a third time may be the toughest task yet, but it is one this team will relish,” said Del Bosque. “This is a generation of brilliance in Spain. For the last two tournaments, this team has been perfect. Our challenge is to repeat at Euro 2012.”
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Pepe Reina, (Liverpool), Victor Valdes (Barcelona).
Defenders: Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), Jordi Alba (Valencia), Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao).
Midfielders: Xavi (Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), David Silva (Manchester City), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Juan Mata (Chelsea).
Forwards: Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Pedro (Barcelona), Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla).
Recent Euros performances:
2008 - Winners
2004 - Eliminated in the group stage
2000 - Eliminated in the quarter-finals
1996 - Eliminated in the quarter-finals
Keep an eye on: Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Fernando Llorente
Prediction: Tournament favourites Spain are expected to top their group and barring a major upset, should make it to the last-four. Winning their second straight European Championship title, however, may be a step too far, even for Spain’s golden generation.
June 10, 2012: Spain vs Italy, Gdansk
June 14, 2012: Spain vs Ireland, Gdansk
June 18, 2012:>/b> Spain vs Croatia, Gdansk