Football Features

Can Spain brush off the pressure of 2012 to reconquer the world in Qatar?

By Squawka News

Published: 15:34, 26 March 2022 | Updated: 12:35, 4 November 2022

Almost 10 years have passed since the last major conquest of Spain’s golden generation which dominated international football.

In a span of four years, Spain lifted the most prestigious trophies they can play for, winning Euro 2008 (under Luis Aragones), the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012 (both under Vicente Del Bosque).

This surpassed the European Championship and World Cup double Germany won between 1972-1974. The Germans almost accomplished the “three-peat” but lost on penalties in the 1976 Euro final to Czechoslovakia where the “Panenka” penalty kick was born. France also did a double of World Cup ’98 and Euro 2000, but the tournament win streak ended there.

This means that the legacy left by that Spanish generation is unique and unrivalled, yet it entailed more pressure for future generations.

Since that last trophy in 2012, Spain’s performances in major competitions have been quite forgettable, with the exception of the semi finals reached by Luis Enrique’s men during Euro 2020 – very much against expectations.

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Their football in that competition was encouraging, especially after just missing out on the final despite dominating Italy and showing the world that Spain is on the rise once again.

Now Lucho and the whole country are looking towards Qatar 2022 as a new opportunity to reconquer the world 10 years after their last masterstroke.

What has changed since 2012?

It would be audacious to say that the current Spanish team is a reflection of the one from 2012, but there is no doubt it left its mark. Whether we talk about Lucho, Julen Lopetegui or Robert Moreno, they’ve all brought in their own ideas while preserving the essence of the “tiki-taka”; a term that has as many admirers as detractors. The short passing, constant movement of the ball and maintaining possession has been ever-present for all the mentioned managers, as well as the non-negotiable 4-3-3 formation.

While Vicente del Bosque had a hands-off style of management in which the players were the sole protagonists, Lucho is quite the opposite, always trying to reflect his personality on and off the pitch. If you think about the 2012 Spanish side it’s likely players such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta or David Silva come to mind, whereas if you picture the current team, Lucho is surely the first figure mentioned by many.

This leads to one of the biggest differences between that squad and the current one. While Del Bosque almost always had a well-defined starting XI of world class superstars, with only some slight tweaks over the years, Lucho relies upon a long list of talented players with fewer stars involved: “I’m very lucky because I have 50 players at my disposal,” he said.

Current form is a very important factor for Lucho too, always open to experimenting with new players and not hesitating to drop a heavyweight such as Sergio Ramos or to start 17-year-old Gavi in the Nations League semi-finals on his official international debut. These types of drastic decisions have obviously earned him lots of criticism in Spain, but Lucho remains steadfast to his ideas.

Tactically speaking, there are other aspects that distinguish today’s Spain from the one that put four past Italy in the European Championship final in 2012.

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Starting with the goalkeeper, Lucho considers it essential to have someone who has good ball control to help build from the back. That’s why Unai Simón tends to be his first choice ahead of David de Gea, who has even been dropped from the latest squad list. This contrasts with Del Bosque’s loyalty towards Iker Casillas, who was always ahead of Víctor Valdés, even when the latter was in better form and was a safer bet with the ball at his feet.

In terms of the positional play which worked so well for Del Bosque’s side and Lucho himself implemented while coaching Barcelona, he’s had to readapt. This is because he simply doesn’t have the players who can carry out this style with the same efficiency as Xavi, Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and the rest of the 2012 Spanish squad. So he’s made some adjustments to better fit the players he has available. For example, he allows his wingers the freedom to open up the pitch to then cut inside, rather than obsessively trying to progress through the middle under the pretext of a False No. 9.

All of this results in a more vertical approach which is also trademark Lucho, as seen in his previous clubs such as Barça or Celta Vigo. Part of this verticality also comes from the high pressure that is demanded of his players, in order to suffocate opponents by shutting down their passing lanes and hoping for a quick recovery that will spark a lethal attacking opportunity.

But no team is flawless, and similarly to Del Bosque’s Spain in 2012, finding an ideal No. 9 remains a struggle. Back then Cesc Fàbregas often played as a False No.9 given David Villa’s absence, whereas now Ferran Torres can sometimes emulate a similar role. Lucho prefers to have a reference up front such as Álvaro Morata, who can drag defenders out of position to open up spaces behind.

The problem is that Spain doesn’t have a clinical goalscorer that can determine a game like France with Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé, England with Harry Kane, Argentina with Lionel Messi or Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo, to name just a few notable examples.

Key players

As previously mentioned, Lucho loves giving opportunities to different players and he doesn’t really have an established starting XI. The only two squad members that seem to have a guaranteed spot are Unai Simón and Aymeric Laporte, the ‘keeper for the reasons mentioned previously and his sharp reflexes, whereas Laporte is a “top player” as stated by Lucho, who can calmly build from the back thanks to his diverse passing range and aerial threat at set pieces.

The other key player for Lucho has to be Pedri. After barely four international caps he was already indispensable, just missing one minute of playing time in Spain’s Euro 2020 campaign. Since that last game in July, and representing Spain at the Olympics, Pedri has missed out on all the upcoming matches due to injury, but he’s bound to be crucial once the ball gets rolling again for the national team.

His control, creativity and dribbling allows him to dictate the tempo and facilitate quick and dangerous transitions that can break down opponents’ lines of pressure. He’s a special kind of player that can make the difference.

Rising stars

We should probably also include Pedri here given his youth and potential, but he’s not the only rising star among the players that have been called up by Lucho. Gavi is definitely another standout name, making his debut with the national team after just four starts with Barcelona. Like the Spanish coach, Gavi has a dazzling personality and an eagerness to give it his all on the pitch. He’s an ideal player to implement high pressure and swiftly recover the ball, which is complemented by outstanding quality and quick thinking.

It would also be unfair not to mention a third Barça player in Ansu Fati, who is still 19 and has a lot to prove if he can catch a break after so many injuries. If he can keep developing his goalscoring abilities, he might just be the exact player Lucho needs up front to take Spain to the next level.

But while Ansu remains on the sidelines, Villarreal’s Yéremy Pino has been given another chance to prove himself, especially after putting four goals past Espanyol in a 5-1 win. As a winger, his pace and technical qualities allow him to cut inside and connect with his teammates, proving a constant threat going forward. Despite his youth, he doesn’t hesitate when it comes to one-on-one situations, offering a slightly different profile to wingers such as Ferran Torres or Pablo Sarabia.

Article produced by Román de Arquer in partnership with La Liga Lowdown, your home for Spanish football in English with reporters based in Spain. Find them on Twitter @LaLigaLowdown


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