Spain: In Possession We TrustBy: Juan Mesa
HOW DID THEY GET HERE: The current world champions ended up on top of Group I of the UEFA qualifiers after an unbeaten run. A couple of home draws against France and Finland set the alarms off, but a victory in Paris calmed everybody down. Spain also won the UEFA Euro 2012—their second European championship in a row—after beating Italy 4-0 in the final match.
BIGGEST STRENGTH: Tiki-taka, the short-passing style that led Spain to the glory in 2010 is so four years ago, yet possession remains Spain’s main weapon. Once Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fàbregas and company take the ball, it’s hard to win it back. The style gives Spain the possibility to be compact and the ability to defend with excellence.
BIGGEST WEAKNESS: Spain’s attack is uncertain. Atlético’s Diego Costa was supposed to be the main ace, but finished the 2013-2014 season with recurrent injuries. David Villa is aging, and Fernando Torres scores only once every six months since he signed for Chelsea three years ago. The options of Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo seem distant to coach Vicente del Bosque. The lack of punch is worrisome, especially when Spain’s possession gets unproductive.
WORLD CUP CHANCES: The journey to the final is not easy for Spain. As part of Group B, the Spaniards have to deal with Chile (the other Roja), a team that has the capacity of getting control of the ball away from them, and the Netherlands, the team they defeated in the final in South Africa (and who will certainly come looking for revenge). To make things more complicated, Spain should try to finish first in the group to avoid Brazil—favorite to win Group A—in the Round of 16. (They lost to the Brazilians 3-0 in the final of last year’s Confederations Cup.) All things considered, they have the game to conquer a second title.
FUN FACT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Younger generations might see Spain’s national team as a winning side, but before their recent glory the Ibéricos were known as Europe’s underachievers. Except for the fourth place in 1950, Spain was condemned to leave the World Cup in the quarterfinals as if it were cursed. Their history before South Africa is a collection of broken noses, missed penalty kicks and referees that harmed them with debatable interpretations of the offside rule.
IF THEY WERE A SONG, IT WOULD BE: “Golden Age” by TV on the Radio.