On Monday evening, Spanish national team manager Vicente del Bosque detailed the initial squad he will invite to Spain’s World Cup training camp. The thirty-man team will be whittled down to twenty-three by May 19, and for the most part, the squad has picked itself. The competition for those final few spots will concentrate on three areas: third-choice goalkeeper, fourth-choice forward, and the last two midfield spots.
The only question for the defense is if Osasuna left back César Azpilicueta can steal a spot from one of the midfielders. Equally capable on the left wing as well as left back, Azpilicueta has never played for the Spanish national team at the senior level. At twenty years of age, he will be the future left back for Spain, but with the expectations so high on this particular Spanish squad, Azpilicueta will be on the outside-looking-in because Álvaro Arbeloa can slot in at either full back position if either Sergio Ramos or Joan Capdevila gets injured or needs rest.
As for the goalkeeping situation, Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina are locked in as the number one and two goalkeepers respectively, so the last goalkeeping berth will be among three players with vastly different histories.
David de Gea of Atlético Madrid was the third-choice keeper on his own team to begin the season behind Roberto Jiménez and Sergio Asenjo. At nineteen years old, he was a mere afterthought, as Atlético signed Real Valladolid keeper Sergio Asenjo over the summer for €5 million to be the goalkeeping future. Early struggles for Asenjo and injuries for Roberto thrust de Gea into the unexpected spotlight, and he responded with a veteran’s savvy, keeping Asenjo on the bench and eventually sending Roberto on loan to Real Zaragoza in the January transfer window.
Víctor Valdés has been the starting goalkeeper for FC Barcelona since 2004, and although he has finished in the top three in the race for the Ricardo Zamora trophy (the award given to the goalkeeper with the lowest goals to games ratio) since he earned the goalkeeping helm, winning it twice, former national team manager Luis Aragonés and current manager Vicente del Bosque never seriously considered him as a potential call-up to the national team. A combination of inopportune, high-profile errors and occasional run-ins with managers have been presented as reasons why he was kept off the national team, but with his high-level play in the past two seasons, Vicente del Bosque may find it hard to continue to justify Valdés’ exclusion.
Unfortunately for Diego López, he came up through the Real Madrid cantera while Iker Casillas manned Real’s posts as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He left Madrid in 2007 to join Villarreal, knowing that there was little chance he would overthrow Casillas in the Real goal. López’s good form with Villarreal led del Bosque to hand him the third-choice keeper berth over Andrés Palop in early 2009, and he has been ensconced in that spot since then. While he continued his consistent play this season for Villarreal, he might be penalized for both Villarreal’s underwhelming campaign and the grassroots swell of support for Víctor Valdés.
Tomorrow, this column will focus on the last midfield spots.
Vicente del Bosque’s Provisional 30-Man Squad
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina, Víctor Valdés, Diego López, and David de Gea
Defenders: Sergio Ramos, Álvaro Arbeloa, Raúl Albiol, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Carlos Marchena, Joan Capdevila, and César Azpilicueta
Midfielders: Xavi Hernández, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Juan Mata, David Silva, Marcos Senna, Santi Cazorla, Jesús Navas, Javi Martínez, and Cesc Fàbregas
Forwards: David Villa, Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente, Pedro Rodríguez, Dani Güiza, Álvaro Negredo