European Championship in focus: Spotlighting Spain
Man that matters:
Andrés Iniesta: Seriously, it’s impossible to choose between Iniesta and Barcelona midfield mate Xavi. The coin toss landed “AI,” so here you go.
Both players represent the gold standard of midfield possession, masters of astute spacing, the critical first touch and pinpoint connections. They are the cornerstones of Spain’s “generation of brilliance” the indispensable building blocks on which Spain’s flummoxing, mobile passing game has been arranged. Both are set-up men more than goal scorers, although Iniesta certainly turned up with a massive moment of goal-scoring glory; his extra time blast from in close against the Netherlands was a historical World Cup game-winner two summers back.
June 10: vs. Italy (Gdansk, Poland)
June 14: vs. Ireland (Gdansk, Poland)
June 18: vs. Croatia (Gdansk, Poland)
Foursome of knowledge:
- Periodic dips in friendlies might be concerning, but nothing seemed amiss during a trouble-free qualifying jog, one that ended perfectly at 8-0 and a plus-20 goal difference. Manager Vicente del Bosque’s world champs finished a cool 11 points ahead of distant second place Czech Republic. Of greater concern than indifferent performance in meaningless friendlies are two key injury absences. First is center back Carles Puyol, regal and imposing at once but not available. And forward David Villa is out, too; he was Spain’s leading scorer in qualifiers with seven goals in seven matches.
- Choices to replace Villa include … uh, oh … start the Fernando Torres debate in 3, 2, 1 …: Torres has spent most of his 18 months at Chelsea thoroughly underwhelming everyone. So does Del Bosque go there? Or does he turn to in-form Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente or even Valencia’s Roberto Soldado?
- Are we past worrying about the Barca-Real fissure that has long been the bane (or at least the worry) of Spanish soccer? Surely successive championships in major tournaments (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010) have allayed the restive. If not, here’s the count: Spanish champs Real Madrid has five men, runner-up Barcelona has seven. Perhaps it helps that Spain’s defense is built around Real men while the midfield is largely a Catalan production from Barcelona.
- We all spend so much time drooling over Spain’s classy passing and brilliant offensive potential that we tend to forget: goalkeeper Iker Casillas is surely among the world’s best. Spain’s captain just back-stopped Real Madrid’s La Liga crowing, and he recently became the most capped Spanish man yet, with 129 international appearances over 12 years.
Where they are going:
It seems to come down to two things. First, how hungry can you be if you’re already full? That is to say, is the drive still alive and kicking after having accomplished so much, especially after such a punishing march through La Liga, Champions League, etc. (Not much of which ended well for the Barca men; Real captured La Liga glory, at least.) The other element seemingly standing between Spain, the tourney favorites, and the chance at an unprecedented third successive major tournament trophy: those talented and confident Germans.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid CF), Víctor Valdés (FC Barcelona), Pepe Reina (Liverpool FC).
Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid CF), Gerard Piqué (FC Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Valencia CF), Álvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid CF), Raúl Albiol (Real Madrid CF), Juanfran (Club Atlético de Madrid), Javi Martínez (Athletic Club).
Midfielders: Xavi Hernández (FC Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (FC Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid CF), David Silva (Manchester City FC), Santi Cazorla (Málaga CF), Jesús Navas (Sevilla FC), Cesc Fàbregas (FC Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta (FC Barcelona).
Forwards: Fernando Llorente (Athletic Club), Juan Mata (Chelsea FC), Fernando Torres (Chelsea FC), Pedro Rodríguez (FC Barcelona), Álvaro Negredo (Sevilla FC).
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