One could forgive Vicente del Bosque for being a tad frustrated. This international break has afforded the Spanish Coach the opportunity to take his side down to Africa, where on Saturday, they will face the might of Equatorial Guinea. After that, they head to Johannesburg for a friendly against South Africa on Tuesday. Then the players will disperse to their respective clubs, and will not reassemble again until March.
Quite what either friendly is likely to offer the reigning World Cup champions is anyone’s guess. Aside from the obvious desire for the Spanish Football Federation to wring every last cent of the squad’s success, it appears that there is little that can be learned from staging friendlies against opposition ranked 119th and 61st respectively in the world.
With just seven months until Spain begin the defence of their title in Brazil, surely there is an argument for securing games against stronger opposition in the run-up to the tournament. While the Coach may be ruing the hand he has been dealt, though, for one member of his squad, these games offer a valuable opportunity to restore some value to a tarnished reputation.
Diego Costa’s withdrawal from La Seleccion earlier this week will have been a source of particular disappointment for Del Bosque. These couple of games would have allowed for the Brazilian born forward’s integration into the squad and, more importantly, drawn a line under the issue of the decision to select him in the first place. There remains a strong body of opinion in Spain that would prefer that the Atletico Madrid striker turned out for the Selecao next summer.
Costa’s departure, though, has opened up a window of opportunity for Fernando Llorente. The player’s stock has fallen remarkably over the past 18 months, to the extent there were strong rumours linking him with a move a way from Juventus just a couple of months after he had joined the Italian club.
Llorente’s standoff with Athletic last season has clearly hindered his progress as a footballer and, more specifically, with the national squad. The player spoke this week about the physical breakdown he felt while on preseason with the Bianconeri. While no one factor should be blamed on his demise, it was difficult not to sympathise with a player who had managed to work his way to summit of European football, only to be cast off into the wilderness when he was about to enter his prime.
Llorente found himself as fifth choice forward in Turin at the beginning of the season, a state of affairs he has described as ‘mortifying’. Yet a goal in each game for Juventus against Real Madrid in the Champions League has served notice that the No 14 may be regaining form at just the right time. His manhandling of the highly-rated Raphael Varane in those games exemplified what he can offer if provided with the right service.
While four goals in 13 games can hardly be described as a resurgence, Llorente will surely feel that this is an opportunity that, at 28, he simply must seize. With Costa waiting in the wings, it may be the last chance he gets.
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