While Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque’s recent squad announcement did not yield too many surprises, it was the beginning of the final stages of what could be renowned as the biggest selection headache in World Cup history, quite a problem to have for the 63-year-old veteran whose looking to help Spain repeat as world champions.
At first glance there aren’t too many shocks. Pique misses out due to injury, but the usual suspects, Xabi Alonso, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Ramos and Fabregas all feature. Del Bosque, who has been criticised in the past of sticking with what works as opposed to being more experimental, has indulged a bit this time granting both Thiago Alcantara and Atletico Madrid’s Koke callups to the full squad. The Real Madrid duo of Isco and Jese both miss out and will ply their trade with the Under 21s instead.
Whereas many other nations struggle to put together viable starting lineups, Spain, with their glut of talent, are teeming with world class players, all fighting tooth and nail to ensure their place in Brazil this summer. Yet for some of the newcomers, the arduous task of making the squad has been further hampered by Del Bosque’s loyalty.
In goal perhaps lies the easiest decision. While Iker Casillas may have been vulnerable at the beginning of the season due to his lack of playing time in La Liga, his cup performances, not to mention his record breaking 952 minutes without conceding a goal, have solidified the captain’s spot. Truthfully Del Bosque always stood by Casillas and his form thus far this season will only serve as further justification or Del Bosque’s report. Backing up the captain will likely be Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina. The former has been in impressive form in his last season at the Nou Camp, while the latter, who has been a tad inconsistent for Napoli, is renowned for being an integral part of the squad. Barring injury, Diego Lopez and David De Gea are likely to miss out altogether.
In defence things begin to get a little tricky. Del Bosque has left out mainstay Alvaro Arbeloa, who has found playing time at Real Madrid hard to come by in recent months with the emergence of Dani Carvajal, another player stuck on the Under 21s for the time being. Instead he’s opted for Atletico Madrid’s Juanfran and the highly impressive Cesar Azpilicueta. At Chelsea Jose Mourinho has transformed the former Marseille man into a bonafide left-back and his newfound versatility could stamp his ticket to Brazil. In fact Azpilicueta appears to be a faster, bigger, stronger and more dynamic version of Arbeloa. On the left side, Jordi Alba is a shoe-in with Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno a potential backup. In the center of the defense Sergio Ramos will find himself entering the next friendly against Italy without his usual partner in crime Gerard Pique who is nursing a torn muscle in his right leg. In steps Bayern’s Javi Martinez who will be looking to showcase his defensive capabilities, thereby benching Pique whose form has been atrocious at times this season. Raul Albiol has found a new lease of life in Napoli and is a solid back up, but there is no space for Inigo Martinez or even Marc Bartra who’s done well when deputizing for Barcelona. The elephant in the room is Carles Puyol who been in and out of the medics office the past two years. He wasn’t selected for the Italy squad and his mounting injury issues make it seem impossible he ever makes the Spanish squad again. But that being said, don’t be too shocked if Del Bosque takes him for his experience.
Spain’s known for their midfield and here is where it really starts to get cutthroat. Thiago and Koke have both had impressive seasons and deserve to go. While on the other end of the spectrum Juan Mata has seemingly played himself out of a role on the Spanish squad due to his inconsistent form at Chelsea and his struggle to fit in with Manchester United. The center of the park picks itself with Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Busquets. Xavi has lost a step in recent years and could perhaps be replaced by Fabregas, but it’s more likely Del Bosque sticks with he knows works. As always the pacey Jesus Navas will surely provide something different in terms of his direct play so expect to see him in Brazil, while the others “Carzola, Silva and Iniesta” will occupy the “false winger,” roles.
But the real casualty could be Real Madrid’s Isco who very may well be spending the summer at home as he struggles to find a home in Carlo Ancelotti’s starting lineup.
Finally, up top, a serious area of contention for Spain in recent years. After experimenting with a false line in Euro 2012. Spain finally has the target men needed to add some nuance to their overall possession game. Diego Costa will finally make his La Roja debut, a well-deserved call up after his clinical finishing this season. Speaking of clinical finishing Alvaro Negredo has become a star in the Premier League and it would be a shock to see him omitted. Pedro will occupy one of the wider slots as well but Jese is likely to miss out this time around. But then lies the real problem for Del Bosque between the last three forwards: David Villa, Fernando Torres and his namesake Fernando Llorente. Likely one of these, if not two will be left out of the squad altogether there just isn’t enough room for 5/6 forward. Villa and Llorente still look as hungry as ever though they may be a little bit old and slower. But Fernando Torres will likely miss out, unless Del Bosque pulls out his loyalty card, still there’s no reason Torres should be in the squad based on recent form.