Spain vulnerable but still strong

The defending champions are weaker than four years ago but still boast the best starting XI and the most impressive squad.

Things have not changed significantly from the Euro 2012 side, with the only major difference up front. Diego Costa’s decision to declare for Spain rather than his homeland Brazil was extremely controversial, but he could prove the answer to Spain’s striking problems, if fit. However, he thrives in a direct Atlético Madrid side and he will have to adapt his game considering Spain play a patient possession game and rarely cross the ball.

Spain’s strength remains their ability to control games and therefore not concede goals. From 10 knockout matches in Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, they have kept 10 clean sheets – an astonishing record.

There are few teams that can exercise the control that Spain impose upon games; in midfield, Xabi Alonso in particular was outstanding. Naturally, they travel to Brazil as one of the favourites, even if it is hard to escape the feeling that another trophy may be just one step too far – if only because a run this good has to end sometime.

There are more tangible doubts of course. It was galling for Spain to see France, who they pushed into second place, get a significantly easier group at the tournament itself. The opening game is a repeat of the Final from four years ago, and after Holland come Chile and Australia. It will be far from easy. Nor is it just the group: should Spain finish second, it is likely that their next opponents will be Brazil.

And then there are the doubts over form and fitness. Xavi, the ideologue at the heart of so much of Barcelona’s play, is 34 now and has had a difficult season.

Iker Casillas, the captain, has not played a single game in the league, although he has performed superbly in the Spanish Cup and the Champions League. His deputy, Victor Valdes, performed ably in Paris, but the Barcelona goalkeeper has suffered a cruciate ligament tear and will not be going to Brazil.

With Alvaro Arbeloa also suffering injury, it is not clear who the right-back will be, while inspirational centre-back Gerard Pique missed much of the season run-in with injury.

Likely XI Casillas; Juanfran, Piqué, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Alonso; Iniesta, Xavi, Silva; Costa.

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