Spain head into the 2012 European Championships as the holders and world champions, having won the last tournament in Austria and Switzerland in 2008 and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The favourites will be looking to become the first nation to win three consecutive major international tournaments with short passing and a high tempo – or tiki-taka – once again the name of the game.
Tiki-taka requires an almost telepathic understanding in the middle of the park, and Spain’s midfield is dominated by Barcelona, who in recent years have passed their way to 14 trophies. The core of La Roja is made up of Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas of the Camp Nou club, with Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid an essential part of the passing midfield. With players of such calibre along with none other than David Silva, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla, Spain’s is arguably the strongest midfield on display and will rightly be the team to beat.
Up front they will miss the hugely prolific David Villa’s 51 goals and the selection of Fernando Torres – who has scored just seven league goals for Chelsea in a season and a half – is perhaps a surprise considering his current form. Roberto Soldado is unfortunate to miss out after an excellent season, but both Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo – the latter with five in seven for La Roja – will be keen to impress and are both a different kind of threat than Villa. It will be interesting to see who Vicente Del Bosque sees as his first-choice forward line, but really for all the talent Spain have going forward a key to their system is the lack of goals that go in at the other end.
Indeed Spain were less-than free-scoring in South Africa, with just eight goals in the seven games and each of the four knockout fixtures ending just 1-0 to the Spaniards, but they conceded only two in the entire tournament. The lynchpin of club and country, Carles Puyol, is out of this summer’s tournament and he will be missed sorely. However, with Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos in the centre of the defence, backed up by Iker Casillas, few will be predicting this team to concede many.
With a squad so strong, it is unsurprising Spain won all eight of their qualifying matches with a plus 20 goal difference. David Silva and Llorente were the standout players from that campaign who will be heading to Poland for the group stages. Del Bosque could well link the two with Barcelona’s Pedro in a three-pronged attack, Silva himself dropping into space and linking the Barca-strong midfield. The success of the attack of converting the chances created by Iniesta and Xavi in the absence of Villa could well decide the fate of Spain and if they are to live up to the expectations the last four years have set. The opener against a solid Italy could well be one of Del Bosque’s sternest tests.
One to watch – David Silva: No-one will bat an eyelid when Xavi and Iniesta do their thing, but Silva of Manchester City should be allowed just enough freedom to keep Spain independent from Barcelona. Likely to operate on the right wing, the tricky left-footer will be the link to the midfield and is capable of both the spectacular and the unexpected.
Arbeloa – Ramos – Pique – Alba
Iniesta – Alonso – Xavi
Silva – Llorente – Pedro
Check out the Euro 2012 odds and get some tips on the European Championships betting.