A side that was previously touted as the best ever national team were brought to their knees. Pushed as the World Cup’s warm-up party, La Roja’s Confederations Cup campaign was anything but – the ‘kings of world football’ were mere peasants.
Spain went into the tournament as favourites to claim the only international trophy that had eluded them. However, Felipe Scolari’s well-disciplined Brazil side produced an astonishing display, running out 3-0 winners.
While the idea of regeneration and integration of more youthful players became a major talking point, Spain’s defensive fragility, evidenced by the Brazil mauling, also had its place in popular debate.
Back in South Africa, the Barcelona centre-back pairing of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique gave the side the defensive stability needed. So while La Roja’s attack was sometimes uninspired, the wall at the back meant that not only did they keep out their opposition, but often managed to scrape through with narrow victories. Clean sheets became something of a routine.
Puyol’s recent injury problems means it his highly improbable he will make it to Brazil. And as a result, it would only seem logical that Del Bosque will use Sergio Ramos and Pique as the two centre-backs.
The pair have been unable to flourish. Indeed, being on opposite sides of the Clasico divide meant that relationships were fragile, especially during the Jose Mourinho era, and both players have been out-of-form of late. With Ramos being especially volatile, it would be extremely short-sighted to rely on just that pair.
Inigo Martinez then presents characteristics which could help Spain. The 22-year-old is something of a modern-day prototype of Puyol. Martinez has blossomed as a defender at Real Sociedad, where he has helped the side to qualify for Champions League. His exploits have recently seen him linked with moves abroad to Manchester United in particular.
Despite standing a shade under 6ft, Martinez is surprisingly good when it comes to headers and is seen as an aerial threat. And in a side where height and the inability to defend set-pieces is seen as an issue, Martinez’s skill in the air could prove crucial.
However, it is an impeccable ability to read the game and incredible leadership skills at such a young age which has many Spanish football fans excited. With his no-nonsense policy, Martinez displays technique in the tackle, which has drawn comparisons with his legendary compatriot.
Real Sociedad are often characterised as a defensively minded team. Their approach has brought about a reasonable amount of success. Central to their game-plan is the idea of soaking up pressure before releasing on the counter. It is here where Martinez unleashes his flair – ambitious in attack and surprisingly adept with the ball at his feet, he is the complete defender, fitting Del Bosque’s tactics to perfection.
Puyol may be a figure of the past, but in Martinez Spain have a defender who fits the Puyol mould. Spain’s defeat against Brazil led to calls for regeneration and with Pique faltering and Ramos stuttering, Del Bosque may choose to give their younger counterpart a World Cup berth.