CASILLAS, Ramos, Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva, Mata, Torres.
Just reading those names aloud is just beautiful isn’t it?
But can they do it?
Can Vicente Del Bosque’s men triumph Euro 2012 and achieve what no team in history has before by winning three consecutive major international tournaments?
Despite sailing through qualifying on the back of eight consecutive victories, 11 points clear of second-placed Czech Republic, and being installed as tournament favourites, there have been murmurs from informed quarters that this undoubtedly blessed group of footballers might not be quite as effective as they were in 2008 and 2010.
Talk of unrest between Barcelona and Real Madrid contingents, fuelled by the frequently fractious El Classico encounters of the last two years, have dogged the La Furia Roja in the lead up to the tournament and, should these rumours have any substance, they could have devastating consequences for the current EuropeanChampionships and World Cup holders.
Whereas some managers thrive and encourage adversity, Del Bosque’s predecessor Luis Aragones being a prime example, one of the greatest triumphs of the quiet but authoritative Madridista has been engendering a humble, united and determined squad free of ego or club rivalry which is remarkable considering the intensity of the rivalry between the two biggest clubs in world football.
Leaving aside any potential conflict in the squad, Spain also go into Euro 2012 minus David Villa and Carlos Puyol.
Villa, Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer with 51 goals, failed to recover in time from an horrific broken leg suffered in the World Club Cup back in December whilst the influential Puyol, for so long an icon for both Barcelona and the national side, is missing with a knee injury sustained at the tail end of the La Liga season.
The ramifications of Villa’s absence could, as Barcelona have discovered this season, have a significant impact on the penetrative effectiveness of the Spanish attack and may, if Torres, Pedro or Negredo fail to fill the void left by Villa, lead to Spain considering a different approach from their much lauded and oft poorly imitated approach to the game.
Should a ‘Villaless’ Spain find themselves struggling to break down an opponent and get caught passing themselves to death with impotent possession, the squad that has been picked and the form of certain inclusions gives Del Bosque a unique opportunity to try something a little different in Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas and Fernando Llorente.
In Cazorla and Navas, Del Bosque has two orthodox wingers who have enjoyed fantastic seasons for their respective clubs, and in Llorente he has a target man of undoubted quality both in the air and on the floor and, while he’s not as tricky as some of his fellow forwards, he has both the strength, finesse and intelligence to link play and keep the ball in Spanish possession.
Such a move though does not represent, as may be thought, an absolute change from the normal approach of the Spanish, more a slight adaptation to come with enforced factors out of their control, a chance to test themselves and their ability to adapt which all great sides have.
Talk of evolution within the squad extends to the midfield and presents a potential glimpse at Spain’s future, with the exceptional Xavi, at 32, nearing the end of his peak years.
We could see in certain games a potential changing of the guard with his ready made replacement and club mate, the 25 year-old Cesc Fabregas, waiting in the wings alongside Busquets the destroyer who has grown in stature since 2010.
Other than Xavi, with an average squad age of 26.7, the rest of the squad should arguably get off the plane in Poland or Ukraine in their peak years with Alonso (30), Iniesta (28) and the immeasurably improved David Silva (26) hopefully bringing their impressive club form into the tournament.
The tournament also provides a first major tournament for Jordi Alba, the currently Valencia, but probably soon to be Barcelona left-back, Athletic Bilbao’s highly rated young midfielder Javi Martinez, who has been taken as an auxiliary centre-half and the 27 year-old Athletico Madrid winger Juanfran, who has also been taken to the tournament as a defender.
So, can they do it?
They certainly have the quality and that great habit of knowing how to win, they’ve been there and performed on the biggest stages, but can they cope without their de-facto leader on the pitch in Puyol and also the prolific David Villa?
Can Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos forge an effective partnership in front of Iker Casillas?
Can Casillas, who despite his excellence always has a mistake in him, cope with the changes in defence and lead effectively without Puyol or will the disruption affect his rhythm and mental balance?
Can the Barcelona and Real Madrid members of the squad put their club differences aside?
Can they, and are they, willing to compromise when things aren’t going well and try an different approach?
Can the most gifted squad of footballers in a generation make history?
Much will depend on how Spain start the tournament against the team who for them it all began, Italy, their victory over the Italians on penalties in the quarter final stage in the same competition four years ago finally giving the Spanish the self-belief to go on and win the first major international trophy in their history.
But, if Spain can overcome the loss of Puyol and Villa and go into the tournament willing to die for each other as they have done in 2008 and 2010 then they can’t just win it.
They WILL win it.
Y VIVA ESPAÑA