2016-17 Season Preview: La Roja

The coming season marks the dawning of a new era for Spain. With Vicente del Bosque bowing out, having brought unprecedented success to La Roja, the challenge for new Coach Julen Lopetegui begins immediately with the start of World Cup qualification just around the corner.

Del Bosque's reign as La Roja’s most successful Coach ended anti-climactically, with failure at the 2014 World Cup finals followed by the elimination from the Round of 16 at this summer’s European Championship.

Taking up his post after two years in charge at Porto, 49-year-old Lopetegui previously led Spain’s Under-19 and Under-21 sides to European titles and should bring a new, youthful approach to La Roja, with whom he is contracted up to the 2018 World Cup finals.

The Basque begins his tenure with a friendly in Brussels on September 1 against Belgium. Under new boss Roberto Martinez, the rejuvenated Red Devils will doubtless provide a stern test for La Seleccion, whose opening World Cup qualifier is in Leon against minnows Liechtenstein four days later.

October sees an early chance of revenge for Spain when they meet their Euro 2016 conquerors Italy in Turin and a potential banana skin in the form of a visit to Albania. In November, La Roja entertain FYR Macedonia – and play England in a friendly at Wembley – but will not face their final group opponent, Israel, until March.

Lopetegui will inevitably be targeting the Italians as Spain's biggest threat to qualification for the 2018 tournament in Russia, but with only the group winners gaining an automatic berth at the finals, the journey will not be plain sailing.

The new Coach has promised evolution rather than revolution, building on the legacy left by his predecessor. At the same time, Lopetegui will face big decisions when it comes to bringing new blood into the team and easing out players whose careers are no longer in the ascendancy.

Spain were without Xavi Hernandez in France, the midfield wizard having already retired from international football after leaving Barcelona. Now Andres Iniesta, Xavi’s partner in the engine room for both club and country, could be nearing the end of his La Roja career at the age of 32.

More positively, Alvaro Morata, who has rejoined Real Madrid, was Spain’s top scorer at Euro 2016 and there are encouraging indications that, alongside winger Marco Asensio – back at the Santiago Bernabeu after a after a season on loan at Espanyol – could provide Lopetegui with new and exciting attacking options.

Meanwhile, the question of who is in pole position to occupy Spain’s No 1 jersey continues to occupy the minds of the Spanish football media. A goalkeeper himself in his playing days, Lopetegui will have to choose between the veteran Iker Casillas, who he managed at Porto, and David de Gea, whose occasionally erratic displays in France were a cause for concern.

Lopetegui will be aiming to build a side to restore recent glories to La Roja. His first squad selection is eagerly awaited.