As a result of an abysmal showing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, much has been made about the need for Spain’s new faces to step up at Euro 2016 in a side that has needed some revitalisation.
The likes of Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso retired from international football after that tournament, and it seemed as though La Roja’s style had finally been found out with the group of players who led Vicente del Bosque’s side to unprecedented success.
Spain’s 1-0 victory over Czech Republic, which was actually Del Bosque’s first-ever win in the opening game of an international competition, told us many things, and amongst them was the fact that the experienced group of players that form the core of this side are going to be as important as ever if Spain have any hope of retaining their title.
Firstly, there was the winning goal. The peerless Andres Iniesta, scorer of the goal that saw Spain crowned world champions for the first time, whipped in an exquisite cross that was headed home by Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique. As well as these two, Sergio Ramos forms a formidable partnership with Pique in defence, Jordi Alba continues to present a potent attacking threat from full-back and Sergio Busquets is the metronome of the side, as he is for his club. Admittedly, Cesc Fabregas’s performance left a lot to be desired but David Silva created as many chances as Iniesta did against the Czechs.
All of these players have played a huge role in Spain’s hegemony that preceded the last World Cup, and there were only three players in the starting XI on Monday that were playing in their first tournament, showing how crucial the experienced heads remain.
Goal-scorer Pique spoke after the game about the need to stay calm and patient when chasing the goals that seem to be elusive for Del Bosque’s side nowadays. “I think we played very well, we controlled the game very well, but the ball wouldn’t go in. I was lucky to score, but the whole team were phenomenal,” the centre-back said. “We didn’t despair, we tried to attack with order and make the pitch as big as possible, and we created many chances until we reached their goal.”
Pique’s comments highlight how, when teams sit deep and allow Spain to keep possession, the likes of Iniesta and Silva are still the guys to break them down and maintain serenity on the pitch. It is also worth mentioning that due to Spain winning the last two European Championships, they are the only players in France who know what it takes to win the competition.
On the other hand, the importance of the new boys must be noted. Alvaro Morata and Nolito need to start converting the chances presented to them, especially the former, who squandered three decent chances in his first appearance at a major tournament. The precision and incisiveness that Nolito showed for Celta Vigo last season would also be a massive helping hand in scoring more goals.
There is an obvious blend of experience and freshness then, and even though their amalgamation will be vital for Spain to go far in Euro 2016, the old guard’s importance remains the most pivotal in everything that Del Bosque’s side do.