As title defences go, Spain’s effort to retain the World Cup in 2014 was virtually as disastrous as it could have been. After losing their opening game in Brazil 5-1 to the Netherlands, Vicente Del Bosque’s side were the first team to be eliminated from the tournament following a 2-0 defeat by Chile in their second match.
Subsequently, Spain’s acrimonious and early exit from the World Cup inspired Del Bosque to begin to make some subtle changes to his team, some of which were enforced.
The retirements from international football of David Villa, Xabi Alonso and Xavi were damaging blows to La Roja, since each were key members of Spanish sides which won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships, as well as the 2010 World Cup.
Spain without the highly celebrated trio did not start particularly well, since after winning their opening game of qualification for Euro 2016 5-1 against Macedonia, they then lost 2-1 to Slovakia in Bratislava to suffer their first defeat in 37 European Championship and World Cup qualifying games.
Thereafter, however, Del Bosque’s side embarked upon a fine run of form winning each of their remaining eight qualification games. During that time, several talented players successfully integrated into the Spanish team and were rewarded for doing so by being selected as part of Del Bosque’s final 23-man squad for Euro 2016. Those players included David De Gea, Marc Barta, Thiago Alcantara, Alvaro Morata and Nolito.
Proving doubters wrong
As such given that Spain progressed through qualification to the finals as a team in transition, their ability to win a third consecutive European Championship in France was doubtful. Nevertheless La Roja dispelled such doubt and established themselves as one of the favourites to win Euro 2016 by opening their campaign with two excellent performances to beat the Czech Republic 1-0, then Turkey 3-0.
Those victories have secured Spain’s place in the knock-out stages but in order to ensure they finish atop Group D and avoid a potential last 16 clash against Italy, they still require to at least draw their final game with Croatia in Bordeaux on Tuesday.
Ahead of that match, Del Bosque allowed his players to spend some quality time with their families at the team’s La Rochelle training base yesterday, as an air of contentment and serenity swept through the Spanish squad, who appear well equipped to enjoy a run to the latter stages of Euro 2016.