Spain stand of the precipice of making history this summer in Poland and Ukraine. But they also enter the tournament with question-marks hanging over their hopes of winning a third major tournament on the bounce.
A cursory scan of their squad list shows an embarrassment of riches in midfield. The fact that talents such as Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla will have to be content with sitting on the bench illustrates this point.
But two key absentees cast a shadow over the defence and the attack. David Villa, their deadliest marksman, finally conceded defeat in his battle to regain fitness following a leg fracture last December. At the other end, Carles Puyol, their talisman at the back, has also been forced to sit out the tournament.
Many were surprised to see Valencia’s Roberto Soldado miss the cut, but despite his hat-trick off the bench against Venezuela in the spring, there were always questions about whether or not he would be a good fit for Spain’s system. His lack of form in front of goal in the latter part of the season may have contributed to Vicente del Bosque preferring Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo.
Del Bosque’s employment of the double pivot of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets drew criticism in the last World Cup, but we can expect both the start in this tournament too. Alonso’s passing range and Busquets’ intelligence in breaking up the play offers a solid platform which is all the more necessary given the composition of the back line. Xavi will slot in to a more advanced role in the centre.
With Puyol out, Sergio Ramos will move into the centre to partner Gerard Pique. The Real Madrid man excelled in this role for his club this season, having edged out Ricardo Carvalho.
But, as ever, questions remain about his temperament and positionally he has been found wanting at times. Alongside him, Pique has been somewhat inconsistent for some 18 months now, and all the more so on the many occasions that Puyol has been out for Barcelona.
Jordi Alba comes into the side after an impressive season at left back for Valencia. He provides an attacking thrust down that side, but as a converted attacking midfielder he will be relying on his team-mates to cover for him. On the other flank, Alvaro Arbeloa is still an injury concern ahead of the Italy game, with Atletico Madrid’s Juanfran – another converted winger coming off the back of a great season – his likely deputy.
Silva fell out of favour at the World Cup in 2010, but the Manchester City man looks certain to start here. Along with Andres Iniesta, he will be expected to drift in from the wide areas to support Fernando Torres up front. Silva has also shown against Scotland that he can be devastating when employed in a false 9 role – a role that Fabregas has also been used in at club level.
The bench is likely to prove crucial if Spain are to go all the way here. Del Bosque likes his game-changers, and doesn’t lack variety. Fernando Llorente and Negredo provide a more physical reference point, and Jesus Navas provides width and great crossing ability on the right. On the other side, we can expect Barcelona’s Pedro to stretch the play, comfortable as he is off either foot.
The key factor for Spain is that they have been here and done it before. Stretching back over a decade, and across the age levels, they have gained a winning mentality that previous generations have lacked.
The players know what is expected of them on the field, have the flexibility to adapt to game situations, and their pressing and monopolising of possession makes play against them a dispiriting task. History awaits them should they succeed.
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- Where do Sweden go after their poor performance at Euro 2012
- Joseph Sexton on Spain's striking dilemma and accusations of boredom
- David Schiavone discusses Pirlo, Prandelli and a prolific striker
- Attempting to solve the problem of 'super' Mario Balotelli
- The case for the defence of the much derided 4-6-0 formation
- Italy well aware they have work to do at Euro 2012 despite final surprise
- Tracing Spain's evolution from untouchable brilliance to boredom
- England's Euro performance shows signs of promise for World Cup 2014
- Germany look to record first-ever competitive win over the Italians