Spain in doubt about reigning again in Brazil

M12adrid, May 28 (IANS) Despite reigning world champions Spain being one of the hot favourites, the 2014 World Cup will perhaps be a tournament too far for them.

The Spanish national side, nicknamed La Rojas, has enjoyed an incredible six years since it finally cast off its habitual inferiority complex by winning the 2008 European Championship, reports Xinhua.

It was as if Spain had finally grown up and despite Aragones’ replacement by Vicente Del Bosque, Spain have gone on to win the 2010 World Cup and then retain their European title in 2012 — something no other side in history has been able to do.

It has been six years of unparalleled success, led by a generation of footballers such as Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso and David Villa.

And despite the inclusion of players such as Xavi Alonso, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and David Villa, Spain has its style based firmly on the “tiki-taca” touch football played by FC Barcelona.

A conservative coach by nature, Del Bosque has favoured evolution rather than revolution during his six years in charge. It is a tactic which has served him well, but which may just leave Spain falling short in their battle for a fourth consecutive major trophy as the ageing legs of key players have not yet found adequate replacements.

Spain could be like a fine wine which has just been kept for a year too long in the cellar and which is just starting — if not to go off, then — to be past its best.

There are a few question marks over who will be first choice goalkeeper for Spain in the World Cup — the cruciate knee ligament suffered by Victor Valdes leaves Casillas as the only candidate.

Valdes’ form prior to his injury had seen him emerge as a serious contender for the jersey this summer, but neither Pepe Reina, nor David de Gea will compete with the Real Madrid keeper.

Casillas may have a weakness on crosses into his penalty area, but compensates by lightning reflexes and speed off his line. He is respected by his team-mates and his good relationship with Xavi Hernandez forms an important bridge across the Barca and Real Madrid camps in the squad.

The fact he has not been first choice for his club in the league has not stopped him performing well in Europe and the King’s Cup and Del Bosque will be crossing his fingers nothing happens to him as Reina is not in his class and De Gea is along to gain experience.

A look at the defence may cost Del Bosque a few sleepless nights as it could be one of Spain’s main weak points this summer. Spain will be without the talismatic Carles Puyol in Brazil. After 100 international appearances Puyol’s ageing knees have finally given up, robbing Spain of a never-say-die defender.

Meanwhile, right back Alvaro Arbeloa has been left out of the squad, replaced by Dani Carvajal, who has yet to make his debut, meaning Del Bosque has to look for solutions, the most likely of which given his conservative nature will be to partner Pique with Sergio Ramos in central defence, with Cesar Azpilcueta on the right and Jordi Alba on the left.

That looks like a solid back line although the constant muscle problems suffered by Alba this season could leave him short of fitness in which case Azpilicueta could switch to left back with Ramos moving to the right and Bayern Munich’s Javi Martinez stepping in to partner Pique.

Spain’s dominance has been built on their midfield maestros Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Alonso and on paper they will once again make a formidable quartet.

However, anyone who has watched FC Barcelona or Real Madrid this season will know that things have not gone according to plan. Although Iniesta has shown flashes of his creative magic, both Xavi and Busquets have been below their best for most of the campaign.

It will be a demanding opening fortnight for the Spanish, but if they come out of it intact, they have the talent to once again go the distance, if Iker stays fit, if the defence gels, if Costa scores goals and if an ageing midfield can find the strength for one last effort.

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