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Defending champions Spain have much to prove heading into Euros
The Spanish national team are having another identity crisis. Two unfulfilling draws against Italy and Romania deflated any previous momentum the defending champions had heading into Euro 2016 this summer. They were flat, uninspiring and blunt up front, even accounting for Vicente Del Bosque’s choice to pick a second string squad.
Del Bosque had always rest assured in the fact that he had a vaunted “quiet revolution” in line to take over the reigns from Spain’s golden generation, which was blown apart at World Cup 2014. Yet now that movement has come to a standstill just when he calls on them.
The Italy friendly, a rematch of the Euro 2012 final four long years ago, highlighted the extent of their woes. Compared to the 2012 final, their match late week went under the radar. Although Aduriz Zubeldia’s goal earned La Roja the draw in Italy, their hosts were brighter and more fluid on the ball to an ironic extent. Set against the Italians’ embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Germany a few days later, the poor result looks even worse. How football changes in four years.
Spain lacked penetration out wide and continue to search for a suitable front-man to lead the line. Admittedly, throughout much of the side’s best of the days between Euro 2008 and Euro 2012, they played without a recognized striker and now the magic of their tiki-taka has wore off their lack of a well-oiled front-man has come to bite them from behind.
Thirty-five-year-old Aritz Aduriz has impressed in recent friendlies after his resurgence at Athletic Bilbao, but he can never be a long-term solution. Diego Costa was omitted from Del Bosque’s most recent roster and has always struggled to fit into his style of play, and Alvaro Morata is yet to replicate his excellent club form at the international level.
Del Bosque was adamant that their offense, which has been bogged down and immobile in the final third, will improve when Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos, who left their training camp due to a back injury, return to the squad, but it was their lack of a midfielder enforcer to replace Sergio Busquets that has been missed the most.
“We’re not totally satisfied with how the two matches went. We had good spells, but we lacked penetration, particularly on the wings,” Del Bosque admitted, per Marca. “Romania put in a really good performance and didn’t let us play our game,” he noted.
Their stars in the Premier League — David Silva, Santi Cazorla, Cesc Fabregas and Costa — have all had unfulfilling seasons and Koke and Isco have also shied away from the opportunity to grab the starting spot in the midfield.
Then there is Spain’s strange goalkeeping conundrum, which embodies their recent struggle between the new and the old. Iker Casillas has started in Spain’s most recent friendlies at the age of thirty-seven, despite his horrible World Cup 2014 and step down to Porto at the club level. David de Gea, who has been a rare bright spot in Manchester United’s squad this season should clearly walk into the #1 position at the tournament, but Del Bosque’s allegiance to the golden generation has cast even this most obvious of selection decisions into some doubt.
They’re winless in 2016 and even with a small sample size of matches in the buildup to the Euros, it is clear that they’re struggling to work out their identity following a disastrous showing at the 2014 World Cup. With ample talent to remain among the title contenders at this summer’s tournament, the question becomes whether the recent generation’s leaders can blend with younger talent into a cohesive squad just in the nick of time.