Spain Camp Focus – Torres enters a race he might not win

A quick glance at Spain’s 30-man provisional World Cup squad reveals two things. One, that their tag as one of the favourites for the tournament is wholly justified, and two, that Vicente Del Bosque is certainly going to earn his money when he cuts it down to 23.

On the face of it, it might look simple. None of Victor Valdes, David De Gea, Cesar Azpilicueta, Javier Martinez or Pedro Rodriguez have ever won a cap for their country before, while Jesus Navas’ travel problems have been well documented, and one of forwards Dani Guiza, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente could be easily jettisoned. But Valdes and Pedro – who has scored an astonishing 23 goals this season – have been vital cogs in the Barcelona machine that is about to win a second consecutive La Liga title. Meanwhile, Osasuna’s Azpilicueta and Athletic Bilbao’s Martinez are 20 and 21-year-olds who are prized by some of Europe’s big boys, De Gea has just won the Europa League, Navas is an extraordinarily talented winger and Guiza, Negredo and Llorente can all be relied upon to hit the back of the net. Tough decisions lie ahead for Del Bosque, but they are decisions that any of the other 31 coaches at the World Cup would love to have. One man who was never not going to be on that list was Fernando Torres. Still struggling with the right knee injury he picked up in the early stages of Liverpool’s 4-1 Europa League win over Benfica last month – typically of the man, he played on and scored twice – the forward, along with fellow currently injured players Cesc Fabregas and Xavi, is simply too important to leave out, and the man whose goal won Euro 2008 is putting in the hours even before he meets up with the rest of his teammates.

Fabregas and Xavi should both be fine, but a question mark hovers over Torres. Somewhere in a gym in Vigo, north-west Spain, one of the most gifted centre forwards in the world is sweating. Sweating as he works up to six hours a day in a bid to get back to full fitness after last month’s knee operation, and sweating over whether or not he’ll be fit for Spain’s World Cup opener against Switzerland in Durban on June 16. Luckily for La Roja, Torres – toughened up by three years in the Premier League – is used to hard work. He’s fought continual battles with his fitness at Liverpool in the last two seasons, often coming back from injuries quicker and better than Reds supporters expected – unlike at Liverpool though, Spain don’t have to rush him back. The quality that we’ve seen in the squad – and indeed of those who won’t make it – means that the Spanish could well afford to leave Torres out for the first couple of group games before bringing him back in the knockout rounds, as a fully fit, firing and rested number nine could prove to be the difference between success and failure for Del Bosque’s men.

All of that can wait though, as the veteran former Real Madrid and Besiktas boss holds his breath ahead of the final round of La Liga matches this weekend. Should everyone come through those unscathed then they’ll soon join Torres in Vigo for a training camp ahead of three pre-tournament friendlies against Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Poland. The first two of those friendlies are in Austria, with only the first one taking place before the June 1 deadline when Del Bosque has to have named his World Cup 23. All of which points to a final decision on the squad by the end of this month, meaning that the veteran boss will be watching those Vigo training sessions closely.

If Torres is to miss out on the tournament’s opening clashes, then a door is opened for the likes of Guiza, Negredo, Llorente and even Pedro to stake their claims to his coveted place. As the Liverpool forward races against time to make Durban on June 16, Del Bosque isn’t exactly short of options to replace him, and while none of them can quite boast the qualities of Torres, they are not exactly bad replacements are they? If the position of England manager is ‘the Impossible Job’, then being Spain’s boss must surely be a dream position.

Provisional 30-man Spain squad

Goalkeepers
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)
Jose Reina (Liverpool)
Victor Valdes (Barcelona)
Diego Lopez (Villareal)

Defenders
Raul Albiol (Real Madrid)
Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid)
Joan Capdevila (Villareal)
Carlos Marchena (Valencia)
Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
Carlos Puyol (Barcelona)
Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
Fernando Navarro (Sevilla)
Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao)

Midfielders
Marcos Senna (Villareal)
Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid)
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona)
Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
Juan Mata (Valencia)
Jesus Navas (Sevilla)
David Silva (Valencia)
Santi Cazorla (Villareal)
Pablo Hernandez (Valencia)

Forwards
David Villa (Valencia)
Dani Guiza (Fenerbahce)
Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla)
Fernando Torres (Liverpool)
Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao)
Bojan Krkic (Barcelona)

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