Reigning World and European champions Spain remain the team to beat in Brazil.
Vicente del Bosque’s men will be seeking their fourth consecutive major honour this summer and yet their status as favourites seems somewhat downplayed. Have injuries to Thiago Alcantara, Jesus Navas and Diego Costa hampered their chances?
Since at least Euro 2008, tiki-taka has been the most potent Plan A in international football. Opponents have appeared powerless to resist the attritional system of extreme ball retention and massed midfielders when Spain have been in form.
However, as with any successful tactic, fitness, focus and the general stagnation of time have all played their part in blunting the sharpness of this approach in recent years, even if the silverware has kept coming. Not only are Spain undefeated in their last 10 knock-out round fixtures at Euro and World Cup tournaments, they also haven’t conceded a single goal outside of penalty shoot-outs during this run.
Problems have instead come from finding goals at the other end of the pitch and breaking down stubborn opposition, who increasingly seek to stifle their attempts to take the initiative by locking down their defences for 90 minutes.
Spain’s defeat to Brazil at the 2013 Confederations Cup also highlighted the threats posed by the Brazilian climate and a failure to rotate their increasingly aged, key individuals, especially Xavi, who looked sapped of energy and ideas in the final of last summer’s World Cup warm-up competition.
That loss to Neymar & Co. could prove to be the intervention Del Bosque, who announced his final 23-man Spain squad for the World Cup yesterday, needed to refresh his side and properly prepare for the fatiguing conditions of Brazil 2014. At the start of the new year, it appeared that he would have the perfect game-changing alternatives to shake things up and refresh his roster in Atletico Madrid’s newly naturalised striker Costa, Bayern Munich’s ambitious passing hub Thiago and Navas, who has so often been the player able to add a new dimension to Spain with his pace in recent years.
However, the fitness concerns for Costa have cast doubt on whether he will be able to make the desired impact on his return to his native Brazil, while Thiago and Navas have not made the final squad due to injury.
Just how important were these players in ensuring that Spain would be able to overcome their the heat and the stilted orthodoxy of once radical, successful ideas?
Related Teams: Spain