I SAT down to write this and started thinking about how good Spain is. I’ve ended up disappearing for the best part of three hours going off to make a Tortilla Espanola before coming back to do this. I basically reeled off a load of things Spain did really well and decided that I needed some Spanish omelette, so I now have some.
There are plenty of other things Spain is great for. When we last played Real Madrid, I spent many hours chain eating goat’s cheese and caramelised onion Tostada type things — and life has been pretty much all downhill since that moment, if I’m being honest.
Madrid and Barcelona are two of the best cities in the world — relaxed, generally good weather all year round, great places for a drink, loads to do and no danger of being forced into going home early because you can’t get a late drink — unlike so many other big cities across Europe. If you like the pair of them, then Valencia is also well worth a visit.
I’ve realised that I’m probably a little bit obsessed with Tapas restaurants and spend far too much time in them relative to my time spent in Spain. Liverpool really does have some great ones though, Lunya (get the Catalan Scouse) and Neon Jamon (pan-fried hake) are brilliant.
The chain places, not so much, but they’re better than nothing and I suppose there’s an argument they keep those two places more accessible. In London, you’ve got Barrafina, which you should actively attempt to visit if you’re there.
The most jealous a friend has made me in recent times was when one told me that they had got a big leg of ham in their kitchen. You know the ones I mean. Those big fuck-off things. I think it could have been a wind up but I’ll never be sure.
Anyway, that’s enough about food. I’m never going to get a gig in Observer Food Monthly so it feels a little bit futile. Saying that, I write about football and I’m not gonna get a gig at FourFourTwo either, am I? I might have to re-evaluate everything here.
Football. Dunno if you heard but Spain have won this tournament the last two times — the first of which saw Fernando Torres become the first Liverpool player to score in a major international final and the other was one of the most complete performances I’ve seen in a game of that magnitude when they beat Italy 4-0 with goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Torres again and Juan Mata.
They were the pieces of bread in between the World Cup that they won in South Africa in 2010.
But, Brazil 2014 saw one almighty fall from grace — the international version of what Chelsea managed to do in the league this season. From winning their previous three tournaments, they were the first team to be knocked out after a 2-0 defeat to Chile.
Their goal as they cross the Pyrenees will be to improve massively on that.
On TAW Player show Wildcards, it was suggested Spain were fancied on the basis of the players they hadn’t picked, never mind the ones that actually appear in Vicente Del Bosque’s 23-man sqaud. It’s a good train of thought.
Players that haven’t got on their plane include the following; Pepe Reina, Dani Carvajal, Juan Bernat, Isco, Saul Niguez, Denis Suarez, Juan Mata, Sergi Roberto, Santi Cazorla, Alex Vidal, Paco Alcacer and Diego Costa. That’s quite a list. It’s a collection of stars who would all have arguments to be getting games in most Premier League teams, never mind actually finding a place on the bench for their country.
That means that if they aren’t getting in, they must have one hell of a gang of lads.
David de Gea should edge out Iker Casillas to take the gloves. And even their third-choice ‘keeper, Sergio Rico, is absolutely excellent — if he turned up in your goal next season then you’d be delighted.
Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos will form the central-defensive partnership that has served them so well, Jordi Alba will be left-back and show why he’s one of the best in the business with his penetrating runs from deep, while it looks like Juanfran will take the first steps on his recovery from Champions League final heartbreak by getting the nod on the opposite flank.
In terms of full-back cover, there are teams in far worse positions than being able to call upon the potentially brilliant Hector Bellerin (he’ll be at Barcelona in a couple of years) and under-rated Cesar Azplicueta. Borussia Dortmund’s new signing, Marc Barta, and former Red, Mikel San Jose, gives them depth at centre-back. You’ll struggle to better that as an eight-man defensive unit.
Sergio Busquets will anchor with Koke or Bruno, and you’d think Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas will roam in front of him doing their thing. Thiago Alcantara probably won’t get in the side – you’ve got to have a good side to keep him out. They have serious, serious depth in the midfield.
Alvaro Morata will lead the attack. He comes with a big reputation but I just don’t see it. Some of Europe’s top clubs do, though, and they’re after him. The forward line is a little bit bare, however, and he really is the best they’ve got, even though there’s an argument that he’d struggle to get into the England side.
Lucas Vazquez, Pedro and Nolito are more wingers than forwards and the only real alternative appears to be Athletic Bilbao’s 35-year-old, Aritz Aduriz, who is experiencing something of an Indian Summer since he’s moved back to the Basque country. It really is an area where they are lacking and it could be where they fall short.
La Roja also find themselves in a tricky group. Croatia boast one of the strongest midfield partnerships in the tournament, while Turkey look to be a unit that will really surprise people — I’ve actually backed them to win it at 80-1 but that’s not really for here. The Czech Republic aren’t a terrible outift, but they’re at least a rung below the other three sides in Group D.
In the old two-team qualification system, there’d be a chance that they would be going home before the postcards, but it really does feel like they share a lot in common with many of the sides in France — they could be out in the last 16 or they could win it.