Spain encountered a tough group at the 2014 World Cup, that’s the preface I’m going with. Yes, Spain had a tough group, and it isn’t too shocking that they were eliminated from a group with Chile and the Netherlands. Losing in a tough group is a little more acceptable than losing to say, Cyprus, Canada and the Faroe Islands. Still, the way that they went out, and the manner in which they lost against the Chileans and the Dutch was embarrassing for a defending champion, especially one that you would say is in the middle of a “dynasty.”
One of the main reasons for Spain’s dynasty was coach Vincente del Bosque’s reliance on the same nucleus of players and because of that, it was largely the same team that won both European championships as well as the World Cup.
This dore group is past its prime. The team is getting older and the results haven’t been coming for some time (see last summer’s Confederations Cup and this summer’s World Cup).
There is a huge discrepancy among Spain’s players in terms of caps. They continually call up the same, veteran players every time an international tournament occurs. Spain has relied on that veteran core for some time and rightfully so the group has won almost everything in sight, but the team never really integrated its youth. Put it this way, Spain’s top seven midfielders: Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Santi Carzola and Sergio Busquets have an average of 92 caps. Young talents like Koke, Thiago Alcantara and Isco should all realistically have a shot at the Spanish national team based on their phenomenal talent, but because of Spain’s reliance on the old guard, they have a combined 17 caps. Seventeen.
Spain is, or was, too set in their ways and for a while those ways won the team major silverware. Now, those ways seem defunct and ineffective. There simply must be change for La Roja to be considered title contenders again. The team isn’t going away, it has too much talent for that, but to win again they need to change.
If Vincente del Bosque stays in charge, he will need to make changes, even if it means calling in inexperienced international players. These inexperienced players, who are only that due to del Bosque’s pattern of calling up basically the same team at every chance, will need to step into the shoes of players who have either retired, or become ineffective – players like Iker Casillas, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, David Villa and Pepe Reina.
Spain will also continue to have striker issues moving forward. With all-time leading scorer Villa retired, Fernando Torres on the downslope of his career and the Diego Costa experiment simply not working, La Roja will have issues. Their midfield will be talented for the distant future, and their defense will be good, but not great. The striker position, however, is where Spain faces the most change.
Coach del Bosque has used a rotating door of strikers, apparently not content with any one option. His preferred group seems to involve the players he took to Brazil with him – Villa, Torres, Costa and Pedro. It’s safe to say the first two won’t be integral moving forward, as they once were, but after that Spain has decisions to make.
Costa could work out down the line, whether it be at the next European Championship, in a friendly a few years from now, or at Russia 2018 but for right now he isn’t a good fit. He may have not meshed with the “tiki-taka” style and a new coach or system could benefit Costa.
Pedro, on the other hand, is more of a winger than an out-and-out hit man and a quality winger at that, he should be with the team moving forward. After that, you have the trio of Fernando Llorente, Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado. The latter two had on-and-off club seasons, putting them out of the picture temporarily, but not completely. Like Costa, they could re-emerge down the line. Llorente, who was probably the biggest victim of Costa’s allegiance switch from Brazil, had a fine club season and would be a good fit. Spain’s striker situation is in need of fixing. One would think that with all the options at the disposal of del Bosque, or a potential new manager, the right combination could be found.
All of these are problems that need to be fixed, but there’s also the fact that their defense has issues. They looked slow and lethargic against the Dutch and had issues with the Chileans. The difficult part for Spain is that it was largely their first unit that got exposed. Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Cesar Azpilicueta were burned by Arjen Robben and the Dutch. The same unit, with Javi Martinez in Pique’s place didn’t fare much better against Chile. If Spain’s top defenders can’t hold water against two top ten teams, they won’t win anything. It doesn’t get better for the Spaniards. That’s not a slight against any of their other defenders, they simply aren’t at the level of the likes of Ramos and Azpilicueta.
Spain has issues. A defense that is no longer up-to-snuff, a midfield in a state of transition, and a striker group that, despite as much success as a team can have, refuses to work itself out. Not to mention a transition period in goal where Spain could move away from legendary Iker Casillas, who seems over the hill, in favor of the younger, ever-improving David de Gea or the unheralded and overlooked Diego Lopez.
These are hardly the trappings of a world champion team, hardly even an elite one, regardless, what’s clear is that Spain needs to make changes for them to be successful again.