A decade after winning their last major title, Spain enter this winter’s World Cup with their eyes on the prize.
Spain’s victory at Euro 2012 capped off a remarkable three-peat of trophy wins, which took in the 2008 European championship – their first triumph since 1964 – and the 2010 World Cup, where a golden generation secured the nation’s first world title.
La Roja then disappointed in 2014, however, succumbing to the recent world title-defence curse of exiting the next World Cup in the group stage, before putting in underwhelming efforts at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup to bow out in the last 16 on both occasions.
Immediately after the 2018 world championship in Russia, former Spain midfielder Luis Enrique took charge of the national team, though he took a four-month hiatus in 2019 due to personal reasons. The former Barcelona coach returned in time to build towards last summer’s Euros, where Spain qualified second from their group – behind Sweden – and barely beat Croatia and Switzerland to reach the semi-finals.
There, however, things finally came together for Luis Enrique’s side as they produced a fine performance in a classic with Italy, eventually losing to the soon-to-be champions on penalties. Can they go a couple of steps further in Qatar to return to the summit of international football? We’ll soon find out, as they go up against Germany, Costa Rica and Japan in Group E.
Goalkeepers: Unai Simon (Athletic Club), Robert Sanchez (Brighton), David Raya (Brentford)
Defenders: Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Eric Garcia (Barcelona), Hugo Guillamon (Valencia), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Jose Gaya (Valencia)
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Rodrigo (Manchester City), Gavi (Barcelona), Carlos Soler (Valencia), Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid), Pedri (Barcelona), Koke (Atletico Madrid)
Forwards: Ferran Torres (Barcelona), Nico Williams (Athletic Club), Yeremy Pino (Villarreal), Alvaro Morata (Atletico Madrid), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Pablo Sarabia (PSG), Dani Olmo (Leipzig), Ansu Fati (Barcelona)
Star –Pedri: The Barcelona midfielder, who turns 20 during the group stage of this World Cup, almost should be a ‘breakout talent’, but he featured heavily for Spain at last summer’s Euros, where he even made the team of the tournament. Pedri has excellent ball control and is nimble in possession, with a great ability to unlock opposition defences. Look for him to take responsibility despite his youth and be a key part of any success Spain have.
Breakout talent – Nico Williams: The Liberian-born 20-year-old made his senior debut for Spain during September’s Nations League fixtures, playing twice and recording an assist. The Athletic Bilbao winger was a substitute in both of those games so may not be a starter for Luis Enrique yet, but if he is provided enough of a platform, he should exhibit glimpses of the exciting play that has made him one to watch in La Liga so far this season.
Expectations are high for Spain. Alongside Brazil, they are one of the most favoured teams, in large part due to their possession-heavy approach and what should be a complementary climate in Qatar. However, the mentality of recent Spain squads has left a fair bit to desire, and whether or not this set of players can hold their nerve in key moments could decide their fate. It is tempting to say they will struggle to deal with adversity and will bow out sooner than many are predicting. Defeated in the Quarter-finals.
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