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Fallen kings Spain need a few young princes to conquer again

| 17.07.2014

Now that the dust has settled on Spain’s shocking group stage exit from the World Cup this summer in Brazil, Vicente del Bosque is faced with the task of addressing the question – what went wrong?

On paper, the 23-man squad La Roja assembled for the finals was scary. Littered with experience and technical expertise all the way from one to 23, the Spanish appeared to have a clear advantage with their style of possession and pressing in the extreme Brazilian heat.

As we know, that didn’t come to fruition. An opening 5-1 defeat against the Netherlands was followed up with a 2-0 reverse to South Americans, Chile. Two results which meant that a 3-0 win against lowly Australia, the lowest FIFA ranked team at the finals, was futile. The Iberian’s are 15/2 second favourite’s to win the next World Cup, despite slipping to eighth in the recent FIFA rankings.

Xabi Alonso, 32, was unequivocal in his analysis, stating: “We’ve not been able to keep the same levels of ambition and hunger, or perhaps the real conviction to go for a championship.

“Things are going to change. Eras end with defeats – and this was a painful defeat.”

Seven of Del Bosque’s starting XI were fielded for the successful 2010 final victory over the Dutch, who interestingly only sported four players from that affair. Nine of the XI featured from the beginning in the 4-0 Euro 2012 final mauling of Italy, with the only additions coming in the form of the outstanding Cesar Azpilicueta and the domestically prolific Diego Costa, both now of Chelsea.

The two sacrifices for the players’ introductions were Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Arbeloa. It seemed logical, and introduced more dynamism into a team which some quarters had labelled abject in their passing with no real cutting edge as of late.

Diego Costa just simply did not fit. In winning the penalty against the Dutch, he showed some intelligent movement and guile to cut inside and draw the foul. The majority of his time on the pitch however was a lethargic struggle and it was evident he hadn’t truly regained fitness after being withdrawn from the Champions League final after nine minutes.

To say it is his fault Spain didn’t perform though is a lazy assumption. Even though he didn’t reach the dizzy heights as he had domestically last term, it’s not particularly his fault for shipping five goals against the Netherlands. Give Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie some credit.

Del Bosque appears to be staying on in his managerial position and now has to find a new balance in his team to cater for the exquisite continuity that Xavi and Alonso boasted in the middle, the braveheart-esque rear-guard Carles Puyol exhibited, and the cutting edge that David Villa and a younger Fernando Torres brought to the fold.

Iker Casillas has also probably played his last game, as Del Bosque’s lofty expectations for a substitute keeper for the last two years only served to harm the Real Madrid man.

How does Del Bosque bring through a new breed of Spaniards without banishing the style and nature of the Spanish game that won them the three major honours in six years so beautifully?

In the World Cup winning side of 2010, Joan Capdevila was the only player not to feature for Real Madrid or Barcelona in the starting line-up. A lot can be said for continuity, but the stature of the clubs involved add further weight to that notion.

Barcelona’s La Masia academy, whose alumni includes Lionel Messi, has certainly been a vital component of all the success Spain have enjoyed since 2008.

Their philosophies and sheer strength of the production line has transcended Spain and left an indelible imprint on world football for how to play the beautiful game. When considering the ideals of the sport, in contrast to a Stoke City side under Tony Pulis or Bolton under Sam Allardyce, Barcelona and then Spain truly found the most aesthetically pleasing brand that yielded results.

That same production line is in full effect right now. Spain’s youth teams have excelled in recent years with the Under 21’s winning the last two UEFA European Under-21 Championships. The Under19 squad also reached the semi-finals of the Under-19 European Championships in 2013 before crashing out in extra time to Yassine Benzia inspired France.

The last Under-21 squad featured the likes of Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid), Alverto Moreno (Sevilla), Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao), Isco (Real Madrid), Sergi Roberto (Barcelona), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid) and Jese Rodriguez (Real Madrid) – indicating the Real Madrid/Barcelona influence remains strong and equally impressive.

Thiago Alcantara, another La Masia graduate, scooped the 2013 Under-21 player of the tournament award and excelled alongside Atletico Madrid’s starlet Koke with their typical first-class touches and delectable invention.

However insipid the media believes Spain may have become, the youth teams are showcasing a wide variety of talent to counter these stagnant claims. Could a fit and firing Diego Costa be the guaranteed goals that Spain requires? At 25 years old, he has time to prove himself, for sure.

The predatory Alvaro Morata and exciting ‘Jese’ are standing by with itchy feet if he doesn’t though. Make no mistake about it, Spain have the pedigree and depth to change their team three times over and still compete at the highest level.

Now Del Bosque, a man with a win percentage of 80% as Spain manager with his tried and trusted formula, has to decide how radical his changes must be, to see an all-conquering Spain once more. Euro 2016 is next on the agenda, and Spain are 4/1 second favourite’s to victor.



Alex McCarthy