The 2018 World Cup will start in a few hours, and the competing teams from around the world are already geared up for this once every four years event. Germany, the reigning champs are the top favorites to win the title, while the frustrated Brazilians are en route to regain what was once theirs.
However, there's also this team that is thirsty than ever to win the title — Spain.
The Spanish national football team crashed out of the Euros round 16 after being defeated by Italy. Since then, La Roja was thought to be out of title contention as it seemed like they lack talent in the field.
Their biggest stars had passed through their peak. Also, their 2-0 defeat at the hands of the French proved to be another major blow for them as it also happened together with the end of Vicente del Bosque’s eight-year run as manager.
The Spanish side had undergone a lot of tribulations. However, things changed as soon as Julen Lopetegui took over the role of manager. His entry into the club started a revolution in the squad as he helped introduce new aspiring players into the arsenal.
Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asensio, and Isco, three of the youngest bust most versatile players in the field, are heavily depended upon by the Spanish crowd to bring victory.
However, it’s also worth noting that La Furia Espanola decided to omit certain players. Hector Bellerin, Cesc Fabregas, and Alvaro Morata were all excluded from the final squad bound for Kiev. It might be a loss for them, but this shows that they’ve placed things in proper order and they’re ready to cross out the unnecessary additions to the team.
David De Gea
David de Gea holds promising potential after showcasing his talent in the previous season. Ike Casillas is now out of the Spanish team, and it’s up for de Gea to make up for that absence. There’s no need to worry about that though as he’s considered to be one of the most in form goalkeepers in the sport.
He made seemingly miraculous saves all season long, and his performance with Manchester United shows that he’s got the making of a superstar. For sure, de Gea’s 35 percent save record will greatly help La Roja’s side.
Andres Iniesta is aging. His pace and agility are deteriorating, which makes sense for Lopetegui to find a good replacement. Someone who can dominate the midfield. Well, Isco seems to be the perfect fit for that. Isco will take on an attacking creative player approach for the team.
He's expected to start either on the left and right wings or to make an inside cut to enable subsequent full-back attacks. Isco’s skills on this sort of thing are tested as what we can see with his 47th minute hat trick against Argentina in March which led to their 6-1 victory.
He also made 100 passes in the Champions League, with only one misplace from that figure.
Sergio Ramos is Lopetegui’s go-to central defender. His natural talent as a defender matches his win at all costs attitude, which is just what the Spanish team needs.
His ball passing, handling, aerial duels, and dribbling also match his indirect set piece threat, which for him, is what makes him a solid addition to La Furia Espanola. Let’s just hope that he does well when he plays together with the rest of the crew.
Marco Asensio is one footballer worth reckoning as he had won two Champion Leagues, two FIFA Club World Cups, one La Liga, and two Super Cups. He did all this at just the age of 22 years old. Though it may be his first time to represent the first team, there’s no doubt that he’ll do a great job knowing that he’s got some serious skills and talent in store.
The road to World Cup
Spain remained unbeaten in the qualifying group. In fact, they only dropped points when they had a draw with Italy 1-1. They were also the second top goal scorer with 36 goals, next to Germany who bagged 43.
They also managed to concede the least amount of goals with only three, together with England. It was a smooth ride, nonetheless, and with that, we can expect them to have an easy ride in the early stages of the competition.
Another hopeful fact about this is that they’ve got an arsenal of trophies by their sides, both as a group and as individuals. So with that again, the possibility of them winning the World Cup is not entirely far-fetched.
They’re battle tested and got a whole lot of experience in winning games and competitions. They are indeed achievers. But can they make it in the world’s grandest stage? Well, that’s the tricky part knowing that the competitiveness in the global arena is way higher than their previously dominated competitions.
Ramos, de Gea, and Pique can create a solid and unformidable defense at the back. Ramos is best known for his ball handling, while de Gea, for his relentless shot stopping, close range saves, and concentration.
That will surely be a great combination knowing that defenders and goalkeepers should work closely with each other. Pique’s ball blocking, passing, and field concentration are also spectacular, which again would be of great help to Lopetegui’s versatile gameplans.
Meanwhile, Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Silva, and Isco will also create an unbreakable midfield stronghold. Iniesta’s decades of experience in playing top-flight football will greatly boost the team’s confidence.
Passing is Busquet’s game, which makes him a great team player. Matching him with Silva’s cross plays and set pieces can open up offensive lines. Though he’s short of defensive contribution, Isco can still make up for that as he’s more of a layoff kind of player who prefers to conserve tackles.
It might seem a bit unorthodox, but that’s what makes them an unpredictable force in the field.
Andres Iniesta and his international career
Andres Iniesta had been playing in the Spanish top-flight for nearly two decades. That alone makes him a true Spanish force in the sport. He’s already 34-years-old, and his pace is undeniably slowing down.
In fact, he announced that he’s bound for his last World Cup, but without ruling out any possibility of making a comeback for his international career. This comes as great news for football fans around the world as Iniesta is considered as a legend of the game.
The Barcelona great is departing from Camp Nou this summer to Japan as he signs for Vissel Kobe after ending his glittering football career in Europe. This has a huge effect on his performance in the World Cup as the change in environment might mess up his fixed mindset on the field.
Nonetheless, this also has some beneficial effects as he’ll feel more compelled to perform at his peak, knowing that it’s going to be his last World Cup game. It’s all about cementing his legacy in the sport and doing that would mean that he must shine in Russia this summer.
Iniesta said in an interview that the coming World Cup would be his last, but the situation will still be analyzed once the competition is over, hinting that a comeback is likely. He also added that he will first still see how things go once he starts to play in Japan.
If everything goes smoothly and he feels that he still has the capability to finish strong in Spain, then he might decide to get back to playing for La Furia Espanola. This shows that Iniesta loves to continue playing in the international stage but is quite hesitant knowing that he needs to adapt to his new teams.
The 34-year-old midfielder also said that if he was going to be called back to the club, it better not be because of his past performances, but it should be due to his present games. It's all about being fit for him. And if he feels that he's in maximum health, then there would be no reason for him not to head back to the Spanish training grounds.
Just recently, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez awarded Andres Iniesta the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Sports Merit, which is the highest honor in Spanish sports. This alone is solid evidence that Iniesta is a true legend of the game, and that his presence in the coming World Cup plays a huge role in Spain's quest for global supremacy.
Examining the players
There are a lot of great things about the current Spanish team. First off, is that they have the right balance of youth and experience. Sergio Ramos' leadership will surely put everything in its right order as his experience, and natural agility and speed will fire up the players' thirst for glory.
Sergio Ramos would be sharing the veteran department with Gerard Pique, David Silva, and Iniesta, which is a very solid midfield and forward force. Them, sharing the field with the younger squad might cause minor issues, but not big enough for it to continue in the long run.
The Spanish squad is generally strong, not so agile, but can easily switch from multiple corners.
It's disappointing news to see Bellerin, Cesc Fabregas, Marcos Alonso, and Alvaro Morata get axed out from the squad. However, that was for the best as they have a number of inefficiencies in the field.
There are also other more disciplined players that are included in the team who can play their part. It’s not really a big deal to see Morata get kicked off La Furia Espanola as his season with Chelsea was a disaster.
Cesar Azpilicueta made it into the final World Cup squad and could see himself playing alongside Nacho Monreal. Azpilicueta is more of a defensive contributor and his short passes and tackling strategies will help Monreal’s natural ball interception skills, as well as his tackling. They’re a perfect duo, so with that, it’s safe to say that they’re going to ace their competitions.
Diego Costa's brilliance in the frontline is also a huge determinant of Spain's success. That is, however, if he syncs well with Vazquez, Isco, and Asencio. Pique will share the back line with Ramos, which is just the place where they need to be placed in.
Short passes and indirect set-pieces are their gameplays. It might not be the easiest thing to do, but it surely will add an offensive edge to the Spanish squad.
Julen Lopetegui's football genius
Julen Lopetegui had experienced firsthand what it was like to go through devastating losses in the previous World Cup and the Euros. The squad was very unbalanced, which led to the players going everywhere and shifting from one role to another albeit their official positions.
However, since his takeover of the Spanish team in 2016, Lopetegui solved all those issues, and in the process, turned their weaknesses into strengths.
His takeover also caused commotion in the team as he axed out multiple high profile players. Despite that, his decisions were still for the better as the players he got for the World Cup squad answered to different needs and angles.
It was like solving a puzzle for him, and this time, he aced it right. As proof of his genius, Spain is left unbeaten throughout the entire time leading to the World Cup, that is, under his management.
His entry to the club as manager surprised many as he lacked any credible experience in coaching high profile teams for high profile competitions. What made it even more alarming for the masses was that Spain won the World championships and had a double Euro championship titles.
Nonetheless, Lopetegui didn’t mind these doubts as he took the challenge and answered those criticisms with hard work. Now, he got himself a fully armed squad that’s ready to take serious beating in Russia.
His decision to rate and choose the World Cup players based on their performances in their respective seasons also proved to be right as they remain unbeaten as of now.
Spain is expected to make it to the next round, and even deep into the semifinals. Portugal is vying for the top spot, but their early games will be decided once they face the top competitors in the group.
Morocco shouldn’t also be underestimated as they’ve got a high caliber group of experienced players. However, as a whole, Spain will undoubtedly dominate the group, with Portugal in the second spot.
They are then expected to meet with Egypt, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, or even Uruguay if it turns out that the South Americans fail in their group. Spain could also go head to head with Argentina or Denmark if it goes the other way around.
Finally, Spain could face Germany or Brazil in the finals, that is, if all their players stay at peak condition and strength.
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