13-June Netherlands (9pm GMT Salvador)
18-June Chile (8pm GMT Rio De Janeiro)
23-June Australia (5pm GMT Curitiba)
Spain will arrive in Brazil looking to defend their world crown. Sean Duffy assesses their chances of lifting mote silverware this summer
Coach: Vicente Del Bosque
Vicente Del Bosque will arrive at this summer’s World Cup looking to become the first Coach in history to win three international tournaments. There are major challenges ahead, however. Question marks over the form and fitness of some of the side’s veterans means that Del Bosque will need to be at his adaptive best if La Roja are to write yet more history. After a gruelling La Liga campaign for most of the squad, Del Bosque will need to be at the peak of his powers in Brazil.
Why they could be dangerous
Simply because they are Spain. As mentioned, there have been growing concerns over the form and fitness of key personnel. Yet, the pedigree and enduring class of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso et al is such that it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they retained the tournament they won for the first time in 2010. Diego Costa’s inclusion means Spain now possess a powerful joker in the pack, something that may prove crucial.
The world on his shoulders: Diego Costa
The man who turned his back on Brazil to represent Spain this summer, Costa’s inclusion has been highly controversial in his adopted country. However, if he can replicate his club form, those currently objecting are sure to be won over. The player is likely to be under intense scrutiny from the outset, yet his direct style and ability to link the play will be vital. With other strikers short on form and confidence, Costa’s contribution could well prove the difference between success or failure.
Did you know?
Until their success at the European Championships in 2008, Spain was regarded as world football’s perennial underachiever. Previously they had won just one tournament, way back in 1964, suffering a slew of heart-breaking defeats along the way. A revamp of the ‘Cantera’ youth system in the last decade of the 20th Century was to yield incredible talent, paving the way for a record-breaking run of success with victories at Euro 2008 and 2012, as well as World Cup 2010.
Country legend: Xavi Hernandez
The heartbeat of the team and the man whose ability to control games has been unparalleled in football history. Xavi’s importance to the national side and to the success of Barcelona cannot be overstated. His career haul of 26 major trophies at both club and international level speaks for itself. That Xavi was literally the pivotal figure in all of those successes has guaranteed his status as one of the greatest midfielders of all time.
Although Spain have experimented with the ‘false nine’ in the past, the availability of Diego Costa means they will almost certainly play an orthodox centre-forward at this year’s tournament. A heavy defeat to Brazil in last year’s Confederations Cup means that they come into the tournament with their sheen of invincibility somewhat tarnished. Much will depend on whether their midfield can still offer the same intensity when the team do not have the ball.
…Netherlands P10 W5 D1 L4 F16 A11
…Chile P10 W8 D2 L0 F25 A8
…Australia P0 W0 D0 L0 F0 A0
Population: 47.1 million
World Cup appearances: 13
Best finish: Winners in South Africa 2010
Famous for: Introducing a new brand of football that focused specifically on ball possession and high intensity pressing. Tiki-Taka was born in the ‘Cantera’ of Barcelona, but its application to the national side has left other footballing nations trailing in Spain’s wake.
Top Division: La Liga
How they got to the World Cup: Beat France into first place in Group I with six wins from eight games.
FIFA World Ranking: 1
Last World Cup Appearance: South Africa 2010 – Won the Final after a bruising encounter against this year’s group opponents Holland
Continental Honours: 1964, 2008 & 2012 European champions and 2010 World Cup champions
Most Capped Player: Iker Casillas (153 caps)
Leading International Scorer: David Villa (56 goals)
Nickname: La Roja