Euro 2012 preview: Spain
The World and European champions will unsurprisingly be among the favourites for Euro 2012. Graham Hunter runs the rule over La Furia Roja
Spain's golden generation are surely not done lifting trophies - are they?
Forget the frisky pre-tournament chat as the runners and riders parade around the ring Ã¢ÂÂ no matter what has happened in the 24 months since the World Cup was so dramatically won at Soccer City, Spain remain the team to beat.
One or two of their defeats in friendlies have been excruciating. There was a stage when, if another of their strikers lost form or did himself damage, the pro-Raul lobby were sharpening up their arguments. And when England sapped the energy and assurance out of Vicente del BosqueÃ¢ÂÂs side at Wembley, some might have concluded that this was developing into another Ã¢ÂÂFrance in 2002Ã¢ÂÂ fiasco. Not so.
Even if Holland and Germany can claim a slender advantage in the statistical details of how to qualify and make a statement of intent at the same time, Spain still walloped their opposition in Group I, strolling into their base near Gdansk with a 100 per cent win rate and a favourable goal ratio of 26-6.
Even before we take recourse in the brand name Ã¢ÂÂworld champion playersÃ¢ÂÂ, consider this: neither Roberto Soldado, Javi Martinez, Fernando Llorente, Jordi Alba, Santi Cazorla nor Juan Mata played any significant role in adding the 2010 World Cup to Euro 2008 Ã¢ÂÂ in fact, some of them didnÃ¢ÂÂt even make it to South Africa. Yet if Del Bosque had to start against Italy, Ireland or Croatia with any or all of those in his XI, only a fool would call it a drama, let alone a crisis.
While David Villa has missed out through injury, Fernando Torres has been sneaking up on the rails. The Chelsea forward looks renewed under Roberto Di Matteo, though Del Bosque has made it clear that no one is guaranteed a start Ã¢ÂÂ every man knows that either you play your own way into the squad or you get trampled in the rush.
There are more positives. The bad blood which has simmered between Real Madrid and Barcelona since last spring avoided rising another notch when the Champions League draw kept the two sides apart in the semis Ã¢ÂÂ something which would otherwise have led to three clasicos in six days in April, hardly healthy for morale in the Spain camp.
Three important things have happened to Spain since their big breakthrough four years ago. Firstly, there is a winning mentality. They know they can win again. Secondly, this is a golden, fruitful epoch for La Roja. Martinez and Ander Herrera won the U21 Euros last season; Cazorla is fit again, Llorente has come of age, and there is a queue of young talent. Finally some really key footballers Ã¢ÂÂ Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique Ã¢ÂÂ used the spring to hit their tempo and shake off the early-season rust. But while the youngsters will be chomping at the bit, will the double champions really be able to lift themselves for a tilt at three-tournaments-in-a-row immortality? ThatÃ¢ÂÂs the big question.
Llorente has come of age for club and country in recent years
Lessons from qualifying
Keep believing. Scotland roared at Hampden and drew level on a wave of bravado; Spain won. Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic parked the bus in front of the goal and defended for their lives; Spain won. Lithuania produced a potato-patch pitch and let brawn dominate brain; Spain won.
Simple, really Ã¢ÂÂ in David Silva (right), Mata, Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, Spain have five of the most creative, quick-thinking, quick-footed, punishing and intelligent footballers on the planet. Finding room for them all in the squad Ã¢ÂÂ let alone the team Ã¢ÂÂ is the only problem.
This is not the Fort Knox defence of four years ago. Then, the back four of Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Carlos Marchena and Joan Capdevila was utterly miserly. Now there is a revolving door for defenders, and sometimes a 4-3-3 formation instead of the usual 4-2-3-1. Occasionally, if Spain go 1-0 down their engine coughs and splutters for a while, instead of immediately blasting through the gears.
Did you knowÃ¢ÂÂ¦?
Before the Euro 2008 final, so many Spanish fans travelled to the teamÃ¢ÂÂs hotel in Vienna that there was singing and cavorting all night Ã¢ÂÂ to the extent that midfielder Marcos Senna broke the habit of a lifetime and took a sleeping pill in order to get some rest for the match. He went to sleep before waking up with the fansÃ¢ÂÂ song about Ã¢ÂÂwinning on the 29th of JuneÃ¢ÂÂ in his head, and later admitted: Ã¢ÂÂI knew that absolutely no way could we let them down after that.Ã¢ÂÂ
Juan Castro, Marca
Ã¢ÂÂI feel the reality of winning again will be harder than people are expecting. Overall, I can only see one team beating Spain and thatÃ¢ÂÂs Germany Ã¢ÂÂ the only team that can look Spain in the eyes.Ã¢ÂÂ
Incredible quality but may fall short after a tiring season.
Xavi is very possibly the best of a ruddy good bunch
Spain boast an abundance of world-class players, but if there is one man who keeps them tickingover it's Xavi. The Barcelona midfielder is the heartbeat of the Spain side, retaining possession masterfully and finding gaps in the opposition which seem almost impossible. Dictating play from the centre of the pitch, he has been a consistent performer for both club and country.
Vicente del Bosque
After succeeding Ã¢ÂÂ¨Luis Aragones in 2008, Del Bosque won his first 13 games as Spain qualified for World Cup 2010. The former Real Madrid boss did not alter a winning formula, just tweaked the formation and personnel. Despite a defeat to the Swiss in SpainÃ¢ÂÂs opener in South Africa, Del Bosque led his much-loved team to glory.
How they play
Spain play a fluid 4-2-3-1 which allows them to dominate possession in the middle of the field. Alonso and Busquets provide a defensive shield in front of the back four, allowing the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Silva Ã¢ÂÂ likely to get the nod ahead of an out-of-form Pedro Ã¢ÂÂ to do what they do best in attack. Even without Villa, the Golden Boot winner four years ago, there are plenty of striking options.
1980 First round
1988 First round
2004 First round
June 10, Italy (Gdansk, 5pm)
June 14, Rep of Ireland (Gdansk, 7.45pm)
June 18, Croatia (Gdansk, 7.45pm)
Spain are 11/4 favourites to win Euro 2012, and 5/1 to eliminated in the Group Stage.
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FOURFOURTWO'S EURO 2012 PREVIEWS
Grp A: Poland =Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Russia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Greece Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Czech Republic
Grp B: Netherlands Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Germany Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Portugal Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Denmark
Grp C: Spain Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Italy Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Croatia Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Republic of Ireland
Grp D: Ukraine Ã¢ÂÂ¢ England Ã¢ÂÂ¢ France Ã¢ÂÂ¢ Sweden
...and there's more: try Back of the Net's satirical previews