On Tuesday night, Spain joined a whole host of countries and booked their place for Brazil next year. Apart from two games at the start of the campaign, Spain were always in control. They went through the group undefeated, scoring 14 goals and conceding just three times.
Spain will be one of the favourites to win the tournament next summer. Some have said that after their Confederations Cup display last summer that Spain showed they have some major issues. What they have forgotten is that before the World Cup in South Africa, Spain fared poorly in FIFA’s traditional pre tournament competition, so not too much can be read into June’s games.
But, Spain still do have issues to address. They have a strong squad and a strong man at the helm but to win next summer, here are five things that they need to look at before they leave Madrid for Brazil.
1) The Goalkeeping Situation
When Jose Mourinho first dropped Iker Casillas, Vicente Del Bosque stood by his No. 1 and claimed that the man they call the ‘Saint’ would continue to play between the sticks. Even when Iker continued to watch on from the bench, his former club boss kept faith, even if the Spanish media were starting to ask questions about the player’s match fitness. Eventually Del Bosque folded and gave Victor Valdes his long awaited chance. The Barca shot stopper would be the first choice for most countries and with his rival still on the bench under Carlo Ancelotti, the question is who will be No. 1 at the World Cup? On Saturday Iker was benched but played again on Tuesday. Whatever happens Del Bosque is in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation’ unless Casillas starts playing regularly again.
2) The Right Back Situation
Former Liverpool player Alvaro Arbeloa has played in this role but has been far from convincing. Juanfran from Atlético de Madrid was called up last summer and has made a few appearances since for the national team but he too has had his issues. Despite Arsenal’s interest in the former right sided midfielder, Juanfran can be very error prone, just ask Oliver Giroud who was gifted a goal at the Vicente Calderon last year. Real Madrid’s Daniel Carvajal is seen by many to be the natural successor with Barca’s Martín Montoya another contender for the spot. There is also Hugo Mallo from Celta Vigo but these are all very young and have limited experience. César Azpilicueta is another who many felt would be in contention but as he sits on the Chelsea bench, he watches his opportunity slip by. Del Bosque has experimented with Atlético midfielder Koke but for now it seems that the chance is for Juanfran to take, something that other teams can take advantage of.
3) The Central Pairing
Spain’s problem with the right back role arose when Sergio Ramos was shifted from the wing to the centre. Ramos has become one of the best central defenders in the world but the big question is over who should partner him. Carles Puyol is coming to the end of a fantastic career and has suffered a lot of injuries lately. Can Spain rely on him to stay injury free? Gerard Pique is the preferred choice but there is no denying that the former Manchester United defender hasn’t been his best lately. His form has been very dodgy over the past 18 months and so some feel it is time to look at other candidates. The problem is that those who many believed to be potential internationals, such as Alvaro Domínguez, have failed to develop as players. The likes of Iñigo Martinez, Pablo Insua and Jordi Amat are seen as the next generation but as still a little too green. So the most likely contender is Bayern’s Javi Martinez, who although a midfielder can play as a central defender. That said, should Pique recover his form and Puyol stay fit, there is nothing to worry about.
4) The Forwards
In Euro 2012 Del Bosque did play without a recognised forward in a few games and there is nothing to say he won’t try it again. Fernando Torres and David Villa have seen their best days and Fernando Llorente hasn’t exactly set Italy alight. Step forward Roberto Soldado and Alvaro Negredo but Del Bosque has always seemed hesitant in the past to include both players in his squad. Negredo has scored in the last three competitive games and has really made a case for his inclusion. There is also the issue of Diego Costa. The Brazilian is scoring for fun in La Liga and is eligible to represent either Spain or Brazil. He was called up to the latest Spanish squad but Brazil blocked him from playing. Michu finally earned a call up but his chances of going to the World Cup all depend on other players and injuries. Should Villa find his goal scoring boots again, Llorente take his chances, Negredo and Soldado make a mark in England and Michu continue to shine at Swansea, Del Bosque will have the headache that all international coaches dream of.
5) Del Bosque’s Contract
The former Real Madrid coach has a contract that runs out at the end of July. The RFEF have declared that they want to renew his deal but the coach hasn’t given any clear indication of whether he will stay or go. He has faced some very tough criticism over the past few months and also knows that many key players will hang up their boots after Brazil. He will be 63 when the World Cup starts but still shows no signs of slowing down. The Spanish FA usually likes to tie down the coach before international tournaments and so will be looking for an answer from him soon. Should he go, this is a great chance for the players to give him a great farewell. Should he stay, it is another opportunity for him to add more silverware to an already bulging trophy cabinet.