It’s tough at the top but the future looks bright for Spain

Stadio San Nicola, Bari
Montolivo 11, Aquilani 83 – Alonso (pen) 37

Once you become the best in the world, you give yourself a dilemma. Having set the standard that everyone else aspires to, you now carry the burden of remaining at that level. After all the hard work, followed by the euphoric joy of reaching the pinnacle in your field, this pressure can be unbearable for even the strongest of characters. For an individual this can be difficult enough, for a team it becomes even more complicated.

For Vicente del Bosque, being a Coach of a highly successful team like Spain is about more than just tactics and formation. It is about balancing the mental and physical aspects of performing at the top level and remaining there. Every player needs to understand their strengths in order to know why they are successful as this helps to reduce the most common side-effect of success – the fear of failure. That fear is real and justified – everyone wants to beat you and a dramatic fall from grace can make a captivating and compelling story.

Del Bosque is calmness personified and seems to be the right man to manage the high expectations currently bestowed upon his team. Even the defeat to Italy was matched with optimism, and dealt with as good preparation for the coming season rather than a devastating defeat against a team that is still in a re-building process.

Crucial to the 60-year-old’s ability to steer the world champions is that he likes to use all the players available to him, and search for different combinations and partnerships that he can employ according to every situation. He wants to develop a squad that is wholly interchangeable at every level, to reduce the reliance on specific players remaining in form and injury-free.

There are certain players for example, who currently remain irreplaceable, and as the Italy performance showed to some extent, Xavi Hernandez is still one of them. His absence still distinctly emphasises just how much he pulls the strings for Spain as he does for Barcelona. La Furia Roja were accused against Italy of playing without pace, aggression or initiative in midfield, particularly in a stunted first half – in effect, Roja, without La Furia.

However, patience and circumstance is likely to yield not one but two Barcelona-based replacements in the form of soon-to-return Cesc Fabregas and national debutant this week Thiago Alcantara, and Del Bosque knows this. Indeed, whilst not representing direct like-for-like game-influencing styles of play as yet, this duo are reflective of the wider positive, of Spain’s ever-increasing strength in depth.

The overall feeling in the Spanish camp is that, despite their success, there remains room for improvement within the current first XI, and further development across all areas of the pitch, something that for one thing would lesson the onus of responsibility on Xavi and his eventual successor.

This is where the country’s success at youth level carries its strongest meaning. With squads having won the European Championships this year at Under-21 and Under-19 level, and with the Under-20s currently favourites for the World Cup, Spain are finding greater strength in depth than even two years ago. Indeed now, where the loss of a player such as Fernando Torres would have once been a major blow it is becoming just a minor inconvenience, and where David Silva or Xabi Alonso may be unavailable and were previously irreplaceable, there is Juan Mata and Javi Martinez seemingly readymade to step in.

As Spain showed against the Italians, they are currently susceptible when weakened to disjointed play and a negative result. However, with the established players to have won with the national team now pushed by youngsters to have also won with the national team, La Furia Roja’s squad is in that rare position of needing a fresh injection of energy, and being able to call on it.

Indeed, Del Bosque may have been restricted from choosing too many of the younger names for this friendly in light of their summer success at other age levels, but it is because of that success that a first defeat in 17 years to Italy should be treated as nothing more than the rare event it is set to become once more.

Italy (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Maggio, Chiellini, Ranocchia (Bonucci 77), Criscito; De Rossi (Aquilani 65), Pirlo, Motta (Marchisio 46); Montolivo (Nocerino 74); Cassano (Balotelli 59), Rossi (Pazzini 59)

Spain (4-3-3): Casillas (Valdes 46); Iraola (Thiago 46), Pique (Busquets 45), Albiol, Arbeloa; Martinez, Xabi Alonso, Iniesta (Villa 46); Cazorla (Mata 80), Silva; Torres (Llorente 15)

Did you know…At 20 years and 121 days, Thiago Alcantara is the youngest debutant for Spain since 18 years and 13 days-old Bojan Krkic on September 10, 2008 [via @infostradalive]

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