Thursday, May 15, 2014

Can Spain do the unimaginable?

Spain's achievements in winning back to back European Championships with a World Cup sandwiched in between beggars belief in the modern era.

Such are the margins these days that sustained periods of dominance are few and far between as shown in the constant failure by the best teams to retain the Champions League.

At International level it is even harder given that these major tournaments only come around once every two years (overlapping four year cycles) for those in Europe and South America.

Spain have won titles in '08, '10 and '12 surpassing France's recent back to back victories in '98 and '00 to become the outstanding team in Europe and probably the World in recent history.

The question is, could they do the unthinkable and win a second World Cup on the spin to cap it all?

The bookies are inclined to think not given that they only have the reigning champions as fourth favourites. The two South American powerhouses of Brazil and Argentina and the always dangerous Germany are ahead of them in the odds.

There are of course several reasons to suggest that Spain, as fine a team as they remain will not prosper for a fourth straight tournament.

The fact that the tournament is being held in South America is seen as a huge factor for the European teams. The fact that some bookies are offering better prices on Italy than on Colombia would bear this out.

Conditions are expected to be tough in many venues and with a couple of Spain's key players starting to slowly get on in years, it may be considered that Spain's high tempo possession game will be hard going for the team.

The other considerations are that nearly every football team completes a cycle and that Spain's current cycle has already lasted far longer than most.

Certainly, stalwarts such as Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and even Andres Iniesta have seen better days. There are of course many plus factors for the Spanish also.

Spain have huge midfield talent to choose from with the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Javi Martinez and David Silva all available. This gives Spain huge capacity to rotate even allowing for the sad withdrawl of Thiago Alcantara

The fact that Isco hasn't even made the provisional squad and that there are questions regarding Juan Mata making the final squad show the incredible depth that they have.

There are also fresher faces coming in up front. Diego Costa and Alvaro Negredo add a different option with considerably more brawn to go with the goals.

Fernando Torres has been a fading force for some time now but he remains an experienced tournament player if he manages to sneak on to the plane. David Villa also offers an old head and the Barca forward Pedro is always a reliable option.

At the back, if Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos remain fit and free of suspension they are formidable centre back paring.

Should Iker Casillas continue in goal after a season mainly on the sidelines they have a fine tournament hardened keeper with two excellent back up options. There are plenty of options at full back also with the likes of Jordi Alba and Carjaval.

Possibly more of a concern in people's minds is not Spain's personnel but more their style of play. The famed 'tiki taka' had previously seen all fall before it with the opposition dizzying themselves into submission following the ball helplessly as it pinballed around them.

However, in the past couple of seasons we have seen several results at the sharp end of things that have begun to imply that tactics are evolving further and that a solution to tiki taka has been found.

In this season's Champions League and last, we we have seen two teams playing this way systematically dismantled.

Firstly in 2013 Bayern Munich thrashed Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate simply blowing the Catalans away with a blend of pace, power and no little skill.

Pep Guardiola's arrival at Bayern duly saw them adopt this possession based method and they in turn were ironed out 5-0 on aggregate by a vastly superior Real Madrid who played a wonderful blend of stylish counter attacking football.

In addition to these two humblings, Brazil comfortably beat Spain 3-0 in the Confederations Cup Final. Now whilst the Conf Cup is nothing more than a glorified end of season World Cup warm up, it was indicative again that the system can now be combated effectively.

None of this is to say however that a canny operator such as Del Bosque cannot tweak Spain's tactics effectively. One of the problems with the tiki taka approach has been the lack of a plan B.

If both Diego Costa and Negredo are on the plane then there is a plan B right there and with players such as Busquets and Ramos in the squad, they are able to mix it with the best of them. They also have huge tournament nous.

Spain remain one of the class acts in the field but they are in a tough group and their face off against the Dutch in their opening clash will be key as even finishing second in the group (Chile will be tough opposition also) could mean a tough route through the tournament.

A fourth straight tournament win is probably a big ask for what has been one of the greatest teams in history but it will hopefully be fun and easy on the eye to watch them try - No Nonsense.

@DuffnGuff