Euro 2012 focus on Spain: La Furia Roja can make history in Poland and Ukraine
World Champions Spain come into this year’s European international tournament as holders and as favourites once again.
Never has a European national team won three consecutive tournaments, however, should the Spaniards once again triumph with a final victory on 1st July in Kiev, then history will be made.
They have been blessed with the “easier” side of the draw, having avoided being placed in the so-called ‘group of death’. However, their Group C counterparts in Italy and Croatia will prove to be stern tests, whilst the Republic of Ireland will want to make an impression on their biggest footballing stage since the World Cup in Japan and Korea ten years ago.
Despite the tough games that lie ahead of Vicente del Bosque and his team, they should go through as group winners, meaning they will face the runner-up in Group D, England’s group.
Fortunately, it means the Spanish don’t face their World Cup 2010 final opponents, Holland, the much-fancied Germans, or the likes of Portugal or Russia until at least the semi-finals.
However, one thing they will have to tackle early on is their goalscoring issue, with sharp-shooter David Villa still recovering from the broken leg he suffered whilst playing for club side Barcelona.
With Fernando Torres rediscovering form though, and after the season Fernando Llorente has had for Athletic Bilbao, finding a replacement shouldn’t be too difficult.
Key Player: Xabi Alonso
It may be a surprise choice given the talent in the Spanish ranks, but the key man for the holders may well be Xabi Alonso.
The job that Alonso is brought in to do, allows for the movement and free will of the attacking qualities in front of him, meaning Xavi Hernandez can pick out that crucial pass, Andres Iniesta can make those dangerous runs and Pedro Rodriguez can apply the lethal finish.
Alonso is the midfield and striker’s insurance policy, meaning should a team be brave enough to play Spain on the counter attack, when they commit men forward, he can sweep up any danger with an interception or tackle. The holding midfielder’s reading of the game is excellent.
The defensive side of his game also means that he is there to protect Spain’s back four, which arguably, is their weakest area, especially with Carles Puyol missing.
Alonso can almost drop in as another centre-back, tightening the defence, making it difficult for any opponent to get in behind them and leaving the opposing attacker the only option of shooting from distance, which, with a goalkeeper like Iker Casillas behind you, is not an issue.
Rising star: Javi Martinez
However, whilst they have experienced midfielder Alonso anchoring that midfield, Spain do also have a wild card in his replacement, Javi Martinez.
Although he will probably end up starting most games on the bench, when brought on, this much-coveted defence-minded player will display a combination of power and energy to show why the likes of Manchester City, neighbours United and Bayern Munich have all been linked with him.
The 23-year-old has had to be patient for his turn, with Alonso, Xavi and Sergio Busquets all occupying that “Claude Makelele” role, however, the European Championships may give him the opportunity to add to his seven caps.
Also capable of playing in defence, he gives the coaching staff more versatility with selection choice, as his capabilities of a centre-half were evident when Bilbao coach, Marcelo Bielsa, selected him there for much of the 2011/2012 campaign.
Martinez helped captain the Spanish Under-21’s to victory in Denmark last year in the Under-21 European Championship and knows what it is like to play in the big games, having featured in both the Copa Del Rey and Europa League finals this year.
A player of Javi Martinez’s quality waiting on the bench just shows how good a squad Spain have this year, even without Puyol and Villa amongst them.
They also still possess the same manager that masterminded their World Cup triumph in South Africa two years ago.
Vicente Del Bosque became a national hero when the Spanish became World Champions for the first time and will have the rare advantage of going into a major tournament with the experience of having gone all the way before.
This is why they have a very good chance of reaching the final once again and who knows, they may create history.
Expected starting line-up v Italy (10th June):
Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Albiol, Arbeloa, Alonso, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Torres.