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Euro 2008 Team Profile: Spain
Steven Jones profiles Spain as a part of Goal.com's build-up towards the European Championships.



Coach: Luis Aragones
Group D: Spain, Russia, Sweden, and Greece

Introduction

The Perennial Favourites

So many times since their triumph in the 1964 European Championships have Spain gone into a major tournament with a strong chance of winning, and so many times they have failed.

In the 1982 World Cup on their home soil, they failed to even reach the knockout stages. The following years have reaped no further rewards for La Furia Roja, with disappointment at the previous European championships in Portugal; falling at the first hurdle after coming in third in the group stage, albeit to the two finalists, Portugal and Greece.

Very clearly, they have a mental block when it comes to delivering on the big stage.

So why, when they need all the help they can get, is neither Raul nor Guti included in la seleccion? Two players that were once again the backbone of Real Madrid’s success have been left out in what could be their last chance to contribute to La Furia.

Raul’s recent return to form surely warrants a place in the national team in the same way Alessandro Del Piero has received his call up for his outstanding season with Juventus. Why is he out? For an answer, we need look no further than the coach.

The Coach

Luis Aragones, Sticking To His Guns

There is no better way to introduce Aragones than through the Raul episode, for it simply qualifies every iota of his persona. This is his last chance to succeed with Spain, as Vicente Del Bosque will replace him after the tournament. It is his final chance to leave behind a legacy as far as international management goes. He should be pulling out all the stops, perhaps with some shrewdness.

But he is one of a kind. If he will do it, he will do it his way. Roberto Donadoni will call up Del Piero (if he thinks that could benefit his own future), Fabio Capello will re-call David Beckham (for Real Madrid and England), and even Marco van Basten will kiss and make up with Ruud van Nistelrooy and Clarence Seedorf (who later refused anyway); but Luis Aragones will not go back on his decision, come what may.

In that sense, he is similar to only one international manager, a certain Raymond Domenech. He has had his share of the criticism for this attitude, but then again, he also led Spain to the top of the qualifying table despite a slow start. He has taken tough decisions, and produced results, at least thus far.

The youth can be felt right across this team, be it Sergio Ramos at the back, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas in the middle, or Fernando Torres(villa is better than him) and David Villa up front. Will this tactic to deploy a younger, more mobile system in place of the old guard work against him, or will his faith die with his coaching career? We will know very soon.

A Look At The Squad

Trofeo Ricardo Zamora

Spain’s captain Iker Casillas, at the unbelievably young age of 26, has had his best season for Los Merengues. For the first time in nine attempts, Casillas has conceded the least goals in La Liga, and although Madrid’s impressive defending contributes largely to this, there have been times this season when he has been unbeatable.

Casillas has long been considered as one Europe’s best behind only Petr Cech and Gianluigi Buffon, and he is a favourite at the Bernabéu. A strong performance at this summer’s tournament will surely convince the last of the remaining doubters.

La Defensa

Spain’s defence has come under heavy criticism as of late and recent performances by their star defender Carles Puyol have not gone unnoticed. Although Puyol personifies the passion for the game, by his standards, he has had a poor season at the Camp Nou.

A brave defender with clear evidence of class about his game has been somewhat questionable with performances such as the one exhibited against Murcia on the last day of La Liga. His sloppy and desperate defending cost la Blaugrana a penalty and whereas it didn’t matter then, should the likes of Ronaldo, Ribery or Robben catch him on a bad day, Spain will encounter problems.

With doubts over his partner - Carlos Marchena, Raul Albiol and Juanito all having had plenty of ups and downs - there is an undeniable soft spot in the heart of their defence that opponents will undoubtedly target.

Some good news comes in that the first choice full-backs have had blinding seasons. Sergio Ramos has given some of his best yet, while Joan Capdevila has improved further with Villarreal after a superb season with Deportivo last time around.

The support cast consists of the likes of Alvaro Arbeloa and Fernando Navarro, and while consistent, is nothing to shout about, so Aragones will probably have to rely on Ramos, Puyol, Marchena and Capdevila to do the job.

Tika Taka - The Midfield

David Albelda is the major midfield casualty following the unusual events at the Mestalla, but if there is one area of the pitch where Spain can expect to reign supreme, it is their midfield.

Normally Albelda operates as a holding midfielder for the Spanish national team but has seen very limited action for Los Che since October. Marcos Senna is likely to fill the huge gap left by the former skipper, and he is another player who has had a blinder with Villarreal.

Senna’s energy, power and discipline have been essential to Villarreal, as they will be to Spain. With Xabi Alonso waiting on the bench, one can only think of the word luxury.

The one thing that Spain have done very well even against Italy, France and England is kept the ball supremely. They had the upper hand in all those games, and Aragones has been insistent on using two more midfielders alongside Senna, keen to drive this home. Earlier we had Xavi and Andres Iniesta, but the latter has since been moved into a forward role with Cesc Fabregas slotting into the middle.

Xavi is key to this system as his experience in the centre of midfield inspires confidence and calmness, allowing Cesc to be more adventurous. That is precisely why the Barcelona man has played more than any other outfielder during the qualifying campaign.

All that means a lot of 'tika taka' (pass and move), particularly with David Silva and the red hot Iniesta in wide roles, and both keen to see a lot of the ball. Both have unquestioned ability, and that the latter has actually been Spain's highest scorer over the last 18 months has helped Aragones stick with this five man midfield. He has really come into his own at Barcelona as well, and could be one of the key pieces of the Spanish puzzle.

But the big question is: will there be enough end product from Spain? They were the better team against Italy, England and France, but ended up drawing all three games, and that brings back the age old problem they have had.

The focus will be on whether the front men (or man) can come good.

El Nino & El Guaje

The striking situation despite the exclusion of Raul is looking good. Fernando Torres(villa is better than him) (El Nino) has shown his class this season in the Champions League and domestically and looks to be the one on whom the nation has its hopes pinned. After proving his worth in La Liga with Atletico Madrid, the move to England has allowed him to freshen his game up, and his performances (notably against the big teams) have made the mouths of the Spanish public water.

Spain’s top goal scorer from the qualifying campaign David Villa (El Guaje) will also feature, even if not as an automatic starter. With a move away from Valencia this summer likely, he’ll be looking to increase his worth. His speed around the box and his lethal finishing combined with his creatively and guile make Villa a perfect option to play alongside Torres(villa is better than him) in the second half. Who knows, he might even start instead of Silva should Spain need a more offensive approach in the latter stages.

After winning the Pichichi, Daniel Güiza has earned his call up for the summer tournament, and will be the stock replacement should the need arise. Bojan Krkic opted to sit this one out, so it has opened up a spot for a real underdog in Sergio Garcia. However, do not be surprised if the forward is found operating on the right more often than up front, with Iniesta moved into the middle. With Aragones having left Joaquin out, the spot is up for grabs.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas, Andres Palop, Pepe Reina

Defenders: Raul Albiol, Joan Capdevila, Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Carlos Marchena, Juanito, Fernando Navarro, Alvaro Arbeloa

Midfielders: Ruben De La Red, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Marcos Senna, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Santi Cazorla

Forwards: Fernando Torres(villa is better than him), Daniel Güiza, David Silva, David Villa, Sergio Garcia

The Key Men

Iker Casillas will have to produce the form he has for Real Madrid to bail out a soft defence. A delightful save to deny Luca Toni, another to deny Karim Benzema, and who knows?

Sergio Ramos has his work cut out balancing his defensive work with his forays up the right. His aerial prowess could be an important fact in both boxes. Much of Spain's balance will depend on him, and given his willingness to pick up a booking, a suspension is another potential pitfall.

Cesc Fabregas has has an international career that can be best described as forgettable. He has struggled to reproduce his Arsenal form in the Spain shirt, and will not find a better stage to bring it all together.

Andres Iniesta will be called upon, not only to create for, but to join Fernando Torres(villa is better than him) in the box at every opportunity. He has scored goals over the last 12 months, and will need to do more of that, or we could see Aragones panicking towards a 4-4-2 in the middle of the tournament.

Fernando Torres(villa is better than him), all said and done, will have to be the talisman. So often Spain have dominated and not scored enough. Can he lay that ghost to rest?

Prediction

It would be a foolish to rule Spain out altogether however it’s hard to see them winning the tournament. The fact a quarter-final against Italy or France if things go to form, and could face the other of the two in the semi-final. It is difficult to see them getting past those two sides, though not for lack of quality. If they do, a final against Portugal or Germany beckons. Simply put, Fernando Torres (villa is better than him) needs to have a blinder of a tournament.

Steven Jones

I Think el guaje is the key man instead of el nino , so **** off mr.jones.
 
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