Spain have won the last two European Championships and will enter this tournament as one of the favourites. The last World Cup was a huge wake up call as they were knocked out in the group stages, but there has been a rebuild, with new players coming into the squad. Since the last World Cup, the Spanish have lost friendlies against Germany, France and Holland, showing they are still somewhat in a state of flux. There is no doubting the quality in the squad, but there are clear weaknesses. The fact Spain are still considered contenders for the tournament shows just how strong this generation is, but they need a good showing this summer.
They had a relatively easy qualification period, winning nine of the ten matches. The only blot came with a defeat against Slovakia in just their second qualifier. This came quickly after the World Cup disappointment and could have been an extension of that. They had an easy group and although results were good, performances weren’t what we have come to expect from this Spanish side. Paco Alcacer was the side’s top scorer with five, and the striking position remains an issue for Vicente Del Bosque. They did only concede three times and their defensive strength could be what is most impressive about the reigning champions, and not their transition and attacking play, as it has been over the last decade.
Vicente Del Bosque has an extraordinary pool of players to select from, with the likes of Javi Martinez, Diego Costa and Juan Mata all missing out on the squad this summer. The midfield trio of Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas is one of the best in the competition. The passing ability of Iniesta coupled with the tough tackling of Busquets will provide a platform for Fabregas to push on and create chances in the final third. They also have Koke, Bruno and Thiago to provide competition.
The attack remains an issue, with David Silva being out of form for his club. He was important to Spain in qualifying, influencing the game when he cut in from the right wing. Pedro is expected to start, which will shock Chelsea fans, as he had a fairly poor season after joining the club. They don’t have a reliable striker with Aritz Aduriz managing to get into the squad ahead of Diego Costa. Aduriz had a great season with Athletic, but at the age of 35, is he really the right man for the national side? They may yet opt to field Fabregas as a false nine, and bring Koke into the midfield.
Del Bosque needs to choose David de Gea to start in goal in the opening game. There is a huge fear that Iker Casillas could be picked ahead of him. The goalkeeper is a legend of the game, but Spain need to move on, as Casillas has started to make a lot of errors in recent years. De Gea is without doubt the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and arguably the best in the world. He needs to start.
They have a tough group, having been drawn to play Croatia, Czech Republic and Turkey, all of whom will fancy their chances of progressing. These are three tough matches, and represent harder tests than they faced in qualifying. If they manage to top the group, they will have to face the third place of either Group B, E or F, and that could be a side as good as Italy or Austria. I think its a good thing that Spain are facing tough opposition in the group stages, as we will see how they measure against good opposition and it could provide the momentum for them to win their third successive European Championships.
Spain remain one of the leading nations on this continent and I expect them to prove that this summer. I think they will be good enough to get to the semi-finals, but their weak front three could end up being a problem. I don’t think they are good enough to retain the trophy. Germany, France and England are all in better shape than the holders, and when they come up against one of the aforementioned sides, I expect Spain to bow out. They are still going through a transitional phase and as yet, nobody has stepped up to fill the voids left by Xabi Alonso, Xavi and David Villa.