Following Spain’s disastrous defence of their 2010 World Cup at the 2014 tournament in Brazil, the former world champion’s stock has certainly gone down in global football in recent times. With their star-studded generation of La Masia graduates and reliable Galacticos now past their prime, Vicente Del Bosque’s side are undergoing quite a dramatic shift in both their look and style of play.
Rewind back to South Africa in 2010 where the concept of ‘Tiki Taka’ was still to properly catch on, Spain’s dominant possession-based style of play was, at the time, very progressive in the world of modern football.
Headed up by ‘human metronome’ Xavi Hernandez, the Spanish had forgone a kick and rush mode of play and became very patient when building up to attacks, orchestrating moves of 20+ passes in the middle of the park which would subtly draw opposition defenders out of position and create space in behind the back four. With most teams choosing to fight fire with fire by closing down Spain’s industrious midfield, they were as a consequence embroiled in a quicksand-type scenario whereby the more they tried to resist Spain’s expansive play, the more they got sucked into it.
Fast forward to this year’s European Championship and Spain have another trophy to defend with Los Rojo at the time of writing at odds of 11/2 to regain their Euro title, according to the latest Euro 2016 betting. Despite gaining Chelsea forward Diego Costa, ex-Barca star David Villa, who has been so instrumental as a source of goals in the past few major tournaments, will not be present. Pass master Xavi Hernandez has also retired from international football since their 2012 Euros victory in Ukraine and Poland, with his La Masia friend Andres Iniesta still very much involved with the Spanish national team setup but arguably not quite the player he was four or five years ago.
With Spain’s brightest lights fading, a new generation of hungry, young players needed to be filtered through, and fast. With opposition sides also adjusting to their ball-hogging tactics by simply ‘parking the bus’ (another term that has been popularised in recent times), this new generation would need to adopt a more direct approach when in attack. With the emergence of pacey Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcântara, the technically deft Isco of Real Madrid and tenacious striker Costa from Chelsea, Spain have assembled a side that, despite being quickly written off at this summer’s Euros, have a more than ample chance of winning it.
Although not quite the team they were four years ago, Spain’s almost flawless Euro qualifying campaign was evidence that they still have what it takes to compete with some of their biggest rivals. Current world champions Germany have shown signs of fragility (albeit in friendlies) with defeats to England and Ireland in recent times whilst 2006 World Cup winners Italy are certainly no longer the team they once were without the presence of game dictator Andrea Pirlo in the middle of the park.
It goes without saying that hosts of next month’s European Championship, France, are the side to beat, with a roster that contains the likes of Juventus stalwart Paul Pogba and Atletico Madrid attacker Antoine Griezmann. A lack of home advantage for their opposition might just be the crucial caveat that gives them the edge in their home country. But for a side looking to make amends following their disastrous World Cup campaign almost two years ago, it would be naive not to consider a Spain side who go into June’s Euro 2016 Championship as reigning champions.