Spain there and back again

Success at the 2008 European Championships saw Spain lift their trophy hoodoo as they finally ended a major tournament victorious for the first time since 1964, but their World Cup triumph two years later really solidified their place at the top.

South Africa was the setting as Vicente del Bosque took control of the team at a tournament for the first time and, while their incessant passing style, intense pressing and incisive penetration drew admiration, defensively they were impenetrable.

Johannesburg’s Soccer City played host to the final against Netherlands on July 11 as they picked up a 1-0 win after extra-time and on Tuesday they return to the scene of that match for the first time since.

The core of the side remains very much intact as 20 players of that squad are still regular picks and only a few have since disappeared into international wilderness.

Carles Puyol’s injury problems have restricted his call-ups over the past year, while Carlos Marchena and Joan Capdevila have long since vanished. Evidently the defence is where most of the changes have occurred.

Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa and Raul Albiol remain, but they are joined by the likes of Nacho Monreal, Alberto Moreno, Marc Bartra, Juanfran and Inigo Martinez upon their return to South Africa, while usual left-back Jordi Alba misses due to injury.

Spain’s triumphs at lower age levels such as the Under-21s have provided Del Bosque with a constant stream of impressive youngsters to replace aging stars.

While there was only one 21-year-old in the squad last time around, Pedro, Gerard Pique, Juan Mata, Sergio Busquets, David Silva and several other key players were 24-years-old or younger. The Coach appears to have fewer over-30 players in contention, but with the vast majority of those World Cup winners still involved, Del Bosque can hardly complain about a lack of experience.

One area of his team which appears to have come full circle is in the centre of attack. While Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente and David Villa were all potent, Spain’s success at Euro 2012 saw the conception of the ‘false nine’.

Injuries, poor form and a lack of integration saw most of their options fall short, meaning Cesc Fabregas often played as the furthest forward, but things look much different currently.

Alvaro Negredo in particular has impressed, while Roberto Soldado has proven an able goal-scorer, even if his Tottenham form has left a lot to be desired. Torres, Llorente and Villa also still generally find themselves in contention.

Although only three years have passed since that victory over Netherlands, Del Bosque’s side have mostly managed to retain that elusive attribute – ruthlessness.

They also seem to be retaining a high level of professionalism and maturity. The Barcelona and Real Madrid factions have reportedly caused friction, but they remain focused on winning for their country.