FIFA World Cup: Spain, back on the rise

Spain national football team

Winning the World Cup is tough, let alone defending it. Over the last editions of the World Cup since 2002, no nation was able to defend the title after winning it from the last edition. The last time a nation to win it back-to-back was Brazil and that dates back 60 years ago.

This has been the dilemma of 2010 World Cup Champions, Spain. You’re on a roll from your Euro 2008 success, winning your historic first world cup trophy in 2010 before defending your European Cup Championship in 2012 when suddenly, life hits you hard two years later finding yourself eliminated in the group stage of the World Cup in Brazil after being edged out by Netherlands and Chile. Not only did you lose, but you lost big against Oranje by five goals to one before being embarassed by Chile two goals to nil.

As if that’s not enough, you then get knocked out by Italy in the Round of 16 in Euro 2016. It seems as though your form dips then suddenly you’re human again. But the bad run now seems to have come to an end as La Furia Roja made some vital changes. Shortly after Euro 2016, World Cup champion coach Vicente Del Bosque was replaced by Julen Lopetegui, a former FC Barcelona and Real Madrid goalkeeper, a member of the Spain’s 1994 world cup contingent and a champion coach for Spain in the U-19 and U-21 European Championships.

After being relieved from his managerial post with Porto FC due to the failures the club experienced in the league, Lopetegui was reborn like a phoenix and was plucked to succeed Del Bosque. Shortly after his appointment on July 2016, he led La Roja to a two-nil win over Belgium on September 1, 2016 at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels before leading them to a strong qualifying performance that booked them a place in Russia.

During the qualifying rounds, they haven’t lost a single game and their distance from the other teams in their group was black and white. They kicked off their qualifying campaign by thrashing Liechtenstein eight goals to nil before dropping points after a 1-1 draw with Italy. They went back to their winning ways away from home as they defeated Albania two goals to nil.

Their dominance didn’t stop from there as they won four goals to nil against Macedonia before breezing past Israel four goals to one. They then provided a major setback for Italy as they scored three past them at the Bernabeu before duplicating their first round win over Liechtenstein, this time, away from home. They ended their qualfying campaign on a high note after a three-nil win over Albania and a one-nil win over Israel.

What’s the Secret?

It seems as though consistency is the key for Lopetegui. I’ve reviewed his world cup qualifying line-ups and he opted to use the same players over the course of three games before making some minor tweaks to the line-up then using them again for another three to four games. This system did not only work for him and Spain but also for the form of the players in the national pool.

With the cohesion of Sergi Roberto, Sergio Busquets and Koke in midfield, the tenacity of Diego Costa and David Silva upfront, the brick wall defense of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, and of course the man between the posts, David De Gea, La Furia Roja looks to be the team to beat this summer in Russia.

There’s a serious feeling that Spain is primed and ready to grab the gold again this summer but they would have to go through a tough group B contest between Portugal. Off from from their successful Euro 2016 campaign, Portugal will be coming in to the tournament with a big boost from Cristiano Ronaldo who just won his fourth UEFA Champions League title with Real Madrid. He will be assisted by the likes of Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Quaresma and Bernardo Silva.

They’d also want to watch out for the threat of underdogs Iran. Being the first Asian to qualify for the World Cup this year, they boast a near-perfect record having won a total of 12 qualifying matches out of 20. Although it might seem the threat is not real, they should not overlook the likes of Sardar Azmoun, who’s being touted to be the next Ali Daei.

Would you think they are destined for a run to the final or are they primed for disappointment this summer? Let us know about your thoughts!