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Spain – Group C
Coach – Vicente Del Bosque (Spain)
Squad: Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid CF), Víctor Valdés (FC Barcelona), Pepe Reina (Liverpool FC).
Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid CF), Gerard Piqué (FC Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Valencia CF), Álvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid CF), Raúl Albiol (Real Madrid CF), Juanfran (Club Atlético de Madrid), Javi Martínez (Athletic Club).
Midfielders: Xavi Hernández (FC Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (FC Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid CF), David Silva (Manchester City FC), Santi Cazorla (Málaga CF), Jesús Navas (Sevilla FC), Cesc Fàbregas (FC Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta (FC Barcelona).
Forwards: Fernando Llorente (Athletic Club), Juan Mata (Chelsea FC), Fernando Torres (Chelsea FC), Pedro Rodríguez (FC Barcelona), Álvaro Negredo (Sevilla FC)
Likely Formation: 4-3-3
Spain were quite easily the team with all hype and no end result when it came to big tournaments such as the World Cup and the Euro Championship. Boasting of quality players with experience of playing in multiple leagues. All this changed at the Euro Championship in 2008 as that lone Fernando Torres chip over Jens Lehmann versus Germany in the final in Vienna was enough to change the complexion of Spanish Football since. Two years later, under different and current manager – Vicente Del Bosque, La Furia Roja repeated the title winning feat but on a grander stage. Andres Iniesta this time with the pivotal extra time goal to give a 1-0 win versus the Dutch. Two years and two coveted titles, Spain had finally hit the big time!
What many forget to notice or forget altogether is that Spain have won the European Championships before but under controversial circumstances, in 1964. The tournament was hosted by the Spaniards and had 29 participants. Greece decided to pull out because they were drawn with Albania. Spain edged past Romania in the preliminary stage which involved a home and away leg, winning 7-3 on aggregate (6-0 in Madrid and 1-3 in Bucharest). In the next round, Spain beat Northern Ireland 2-1 on aggregate (1-1 in Bilbao and 1-0 in Belfast). The quarter finals saw Spain face the other half of Ireland and were emphatic 7-1 winners. A 5-1 demolition in Seville and then bagging an away victory in Dublin. All the matches from then on were played in Spain. Spain beat Hungary 2-1 after extra time in Madrid with Jesus Maria Pereda and Amancio Amaro, the goalscorers. The final did have a controversial feel to it as Spain faced the Soviet Union, who incidentally Spain decided not to face in the 1960 European Championship. This time, however, General Franco allowed Spain to play the Soviet Union and they won with a 2-1 scoreline. Pereda was again on target along with Marcelino Martinez. On that day, the majority of players in the lineup were Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao players and little of Real Madrid. Something which must have left a bad taste in the mouth of Merengues supporting General Franco.
Flash forward to 2012, Spain have lesser political controversies when it comes to the national team. There is no dictator rule or a dominant politician with a hard ideology which is being imposed on the national team. The controversies in Spain’s case emerge from the choice of squad and lineup. The biggest omission from the squad has to be that of Valencia’s Roberto Soldado who despite scoring 27 goals for Lo Che in the season, will not be making a trip to Poland-Ukraine. Instead, the three striking options for Spain are Fernando Llorente, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Torres. Other rather low key absentees from the squad are Thiago Alcantara, Iker Muniain, Adrian and Juanfran.
Spain are known for their attacking football which is well balanced with a robust defence. Vicente Del Bosque, however, doesn’t have his first choice defender in Carles Puyol at his his disposal. Neither does he have David Villa to lead the front-line. Both Barcelona players are out due to injury and have reportedly denied the invitation to recuperate with the team in Poland and Ukraine while being part of the set up as well. Spain are in Group C with Republic of Ireland, Croatia and mighty Italia.
Depending on the opponents, Spain will alter their formation from a 4-4-2 to 4-3-3.
Probable starting XI: Casillas – Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Alvaro Arbeloa – Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta – David Silva, Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo.
Fixtures: v Italy (10 June, 1800 CET/1600 GMT); v Republic of Ireland (14 June, 20.45 CET/1845 GMT); v Croatia (18 June, 2045 CET/1845 GMT)