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2018 World Cup team preview: Spain

Spain v Switzerland - International Friendly

VILLAREAL, SPAIN - JUNE 03: The Spain team line up for a photo prior to kick off during the International Friendly match between Spain and Switzerland at Estadio de La Ceramica on June 3, 2018 in Villareal, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

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Getting to know Spain: The World Cup champs from 2010 crashed out in the Group Stage four years ago but they are in very good shape heading into this summer after so many years of underachievement.

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La Furia Rioja aren’t quite as lethal as they were from 2008 to 2012 when they won three-straight major tournaments, but they’re 19 games run. Their last defeat was their Round of 16 loss to France at EURO 2016. Andres Iniesta and David Silva will pull the strings with an experienced defensive core of Sergio Busquets, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique leading the way. For more on Spain’s history, click here.

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What group are they in? Group B, where they are favorites and their huge showdown against border rivals Portugal will kick things off in style. Spain also face Morocco and Iran who will be no pushovers but remember: Spain lost their opening game of the World Cup in 2010 to Switzerland and still went on to win the tournament. It’s a marathon, not a spring...

Game schedule – Group B – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Friday, June 15: Portugal v Spain, Sochi 2pm ET
Wednesday, June 20: Iran v Spain, Kazan 2pm ET
Monday, June 25: Spain v Morocco, Kaliningrad 2pm ET

Projected lineup (4-3-3) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full
—– De Gea —–

— Nacho — Ramos — Pique — Alba ----

—- Silva —- Busquets —- Iniesta —-

—- Koke —- Costa —- Isco —-

Star player: David de Gea - This feels like the moment David de Gea announces himself as the best goalkeeper in the planet. He may already be, at least on current form, after Manuel Neuer spent most of the 2017/18 campaign out injured. De Gea was voted Manchester United’s player of the season for the fourth time in the past five years and he also won the Premier League’s Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets. After finally usurping Iker Casillas as Spain’s numero uno, DDG is ready to be the star they need in defense. De Gea will need to deliver in big moments and if he does, Spain’s attacking talents will no doubt make the most of plenty of clean sheets.

Manager: Julen Lopetegui - He has yet to lose a game as Spain’s manager and the fact he worked with so many of this squad in the youth teams has helped to usher in a new era relatively smoothly. Lopetegui has the luxury of having the likes of Ramos, Iniesta, Busquets and Silva around to steady the ship but he’s given exciting attackers such as Iago Aspas, Lucas Vasquez and Isco the chance to flourish. Lopetegui knows Spain are expected to get to at least the semifinals and his man-management will be key to deliver that goal.

Secret weapon: Andres Iniesta - The captain and a true legend who will be playing in his final tournament for Spain. He will want to go out on top after leaving Barcelona and signing for Kobe in Japan over the past few weeks. Iniesta knits everything together so well and if he and Silva can control the tempo of a game and feed Diego Costa and Isco with chances, Spain will go very close to winning the World Cup. Iniesta oozes class and it feels like he has one more incredible chapter to write.

Netherlands v Spain: 2010 FIFA World Cup Final

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 11: Goalscorer Andres Iniesta of Spain celebrates as he lifts the World Cup with team mates during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

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Prediction: Spain will be licking their lips at being handed a relatively straight-forward route to the quarterfinal stage. They know they must make the most of this opportunity and if they win Group B ahead of Portugal then all the talk will be about them going all the way and winning the competition. You worry if Diego Costa is going to 1) stay fit and 2) score the goals they need to advance, but their midfield options are so vast and crammed with quality that they should be just fine. Expect to see Spain in at least the semifinals. Anything less than that and they’ve underachieved.

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