Yesterday, the goalkeeping and the defense were discussed, and while the three goalkeepers contending for the final goalkeeping spot will state their cases to Vicente del Bosque on and off the pitch, they will have little to no chance of participating in the World Cup. The players who will compete for the final midfield spots, however, will more likely have a chance to run onto the field in South Africa.
Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Cesc Fàbregas, stalwarts in Spain’s midfield, have had chronic injury concerns throughout the second half of the season. Iniesta might be back for FC Barcelona in their final match against Real Valladolid after a hamstring tear six weeks ago; Xavi continues to play with a muscle injury in his leg that could jeopardize his World Cup ambitions; and Fàbregas is still in rehabilitation after cracking his fibula against Barcelona in the Champions League in April. While all three will be on the squad, there is no guarantee that they will be able to play in every World Cup game.
Besides the aforementioned midfielders, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Sergio Busquets, and Marcos Senna seem to be locks for the plane to South Africa, so the last four midfielders will be competing for the last two spots: Juan Mata, Jesús Navas, Santi Cazorla, and Javi Martínez.
Juan Mata, in tandem with David Silva and Pablo Hernández, contributed significantly to Valencia’s attacking midfield as the fourth-best offense in La Liga. While Mata has had a tendency to drift in and out of matches, he rose to the call nearly every time that Valencia needed him. Nine goals in thirty matches in La Liga from the left wing position, a relatively healthy campaign, and three goals in seven international matches for Spain are an abundance of accomplishments that sees his inclusion into the Spain squad a near formality.
Jesús Navas’ anxiety problems due to clinical homesickness have been well documented, but his commitment to fight this issue as well as stellar play for Sevilla has reassured Vicente del Bosque that selecting Navas into his squad will not become a detriment to the team. More than what he has done on the pitch, the courage and perseverance necessary to overcome his psychological problems shows that the crushing pressure of a World Cup will not get the best of Jesús Navas.
Flying down the right wing for Sevilla all season, he became the linchpin for Sevilla’s attack because of intermittent injuries to Luís Fabiano and Frédéric Kanouté. Many times during Sevilla’s inconsistent season, he was the only player that had any sort of capability to bother the opposition because of his speed and guile. Because Spain does not have a true right winger in the squad, Navas will likely earn a seat on the plane to South Africa.
Santi Cazorla is the only player that could oust Navas from the World Cup squad. Equally competent on either wing, Cazorla has been a mainstay on the Spain squad since his surprise inclusion into the UEFA Euro 2008 squad, where he came in as a substitute in five of their six matches. The injury bug bit Cazorla all season with inveterate leg and back issues, and Villarreal missed his influence considerably, as they mired in mid-table for a majority of the season. Cazorla is starting to regain his fitness after he came back from injury in mid-April, but unless he stars in the Spain training camp and exhibitions, his lack of game action will be the sole reason he is left off the squad.
Javi Martínez of Athletic Bilbao was one of the surprise selections by Vicente del Bosque into the thirty-man squad, but if one has watched La Liga all season long, Martínez would not be that much of a revelation. Only twenty-one years old, Athletic saw him as such a talent that they paid Osasuna €6 million when he was only seventeen.
More than a typical Bilbao rugged midfielder, his dribbling and shooting skill is unquestioned, as shown here in one of the most spectacular individual moments of the season. His box-to-box energy throughout the season kept Athletic in the hunt for a European berth, and without his industry in their midfield, Gaizka Toquero and Fernando Llorente would not have enjoyed the freedom to focus on the final third. Nearly every World Cup squad includes one player from left field, and although del Bosque has a glut of central midfielders, Javi Martínez should not immediately be dismissed as one of the seven that will not make the final 23-man roster.
Tomorrow, this column will focus on the battle for the final spot in the forward position.
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