It has been six long-short years, smeared with Hispanic glory and silverware. And as the case was before every big tournament following Euro 2008, Spain are taken for granted; not by opposition, but by their fans rather. The numbers have swelled with each passing year, and the bandwagon seems to be never derailing. Even yours truly jumped ship owing to the almost-insane levels of success achieved and maintained. This Spain of Casillas and Xavi and Iniesta will forever rest in the golden pages of the history books no matter what, and heaps a mountain on the following generations’ shoulders. But could they do it again? Is the hunger still there?
Every big tournament after the Euro’08 preceded with questions ranging from Spain’s capacity to win it to how they would have to overcome the newer forces in the field. True they’ve lost out a Confederation Cup or two, but the bigger picture tells this simple yet stunning fact: No team has done the successive treble of Euro-World Cup-Euro, never-ever. There could be another of those Austrian Wunderteam or The Magical Magyars of Hungary who could play football so stunning that fathoming a thought about them being defeated is near-impossible. It is possible that Spain could lose out to one of the bigger, more-traditional nations but it would take an incredible twist of fate to even make one think of such a prospect.
Success cycles have been talked about in football since long; this famous Spanish cycle of unprecedented success has endured an arduous, difficult yet decorated journey. Is the cycle coming to an end? Or did it end the last time they were in Brazil, when they flew home with hung heads? This is a question which is answerable only by them greats, the Seleccion Espanola de Futbol. Fans expect things, and they seldom disappoint, but for how long? Is this the end?
As things turn out, Spain aren’t quite the invincibles. They rarely were; their record over the best part of the last half-decade isn’t swashbuckling, instead it’s clinical. Rarely have they put teams to the sword’s edge with blistering football and goal gluts. Theirs is a team that values aesthetic football, and they know how to win football matches. That just explains why success has been sustained, and why it is difficult to not remain upbeat about their chances this year too. Deficiencies are there for all to see, holes are gaping like what used to happen pre-2008, and the giant seems fallible.
The obvious weakness lies in attack, and that Diego Costa is the newest addition doesn’t hide the frailties. Vicente del Bosque’s headaches won’t be the false nine anymore. Costa is a proper marksman, and Spain are to play to his strengths if they are to get anything out of the Atletico Madrid man. And common wisdom speaks out loud in the negative. Spain aren’t of that variety; the likes of Xavi or Fabregas would rather look around and try engineering something delicate than passing the ball sideways to the full-backs to cross. Costa looked off color in his full Spain debut and it wasn’t at all his fault. David Silva and Iniesta played fancy around him; it was as if he stuck around like a sore thumb. And the less said about Spain’s other forwards, the better.
Carles Puyol isn’t on the travelling party. And that makes it simple enough that Spain aren’t Spain enough, at least defensively. Puyol remained their bedrock for years, although Pique and Ramos did brilliantly as a team in Euro 2012. But World Cups are World Cups, and had Puyol not popped up for that winner against Germany four years ago, we would have been talking of different things now. The leadership is gone, and the reckless duo who are a calamity waiting to happen will take center-stage. Enough to droop shoulders and sag chests.
Finally we talk of team shapes and every other team would look to emulate the genius of Ottmar Hitzfeld and what his Switzerland side did to Spain four years ago (beat them 1-0). Parking the bus would be derogatory to most teams, but what they’d do is defending intelligently and attacking when time serves them right. Spain’s game is possession-based, and the importance of Xabi Alonso couldn’t be undermined. Alonso can break the shackles with one raking pass, but is also versatile enough to play patient with his Barcelona peers. He brings in the unpredictability that Busquets and Xavi fails to. He remains the vital cog.
Spain could play 4-6-0 or 4-2-4 or any of the many trivial formations, but one thing that is for certain is their capacity to hold on and break down opponents. Barcelona have regressed after Pep Guardiola’s departure, and Real Madrid have played to a style suited to their exuberant attacking outlet of Cristiano Ronaldo. Atletico Madrid have mixed it well with intensive pressing and their aptitude of scoring different types of goals. But Spain tend to differ in style from their domestic torchbearers. They play a distinct way of football, and they seem easy to stop. But teams facing them have noticed the anomaly in those six years. They may have been rocky, but the hunger will once again engulf the nation once the ‘Cafusa’ is kicked off. Spain will be there to defend what is theirs for now, and what they’ll claim to be their birthright if they pull of the miracle all over again.