It has been quite some time since Spain ruled the world, being as close to unbeatable as anyone has been for decades. Between 2008 and 2014, Spain arguably lost just two meaningful games, but their armor was broken by a Flying Dutchman and his comrades in 2014. After that World Cup 1:5 loss to the Netherlands eight years ago, Spain has been mortal.
In qualifying this time around, Spain had a rough start, first drawing with Greece before losing to Sweden in the fourth round. In the end, Spain finished first, four points ahead of Sweden, with Greece, Georgia, and Kosovo far behind. In Nations League this year, they beat Portugal, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic to qualify for the Finals.
How do they play?
In a world where style and tactics are losing national identity rapidly, Spain still possesses something unique. It’s not the tiki-taka of 2010, but for most of the La Roja, it still seems they are born with the ball at their feet. Only Germany had more of the ball in qualifying, but no one passed more than Spain and although they enjoy playing it short, Spain had the most accurate long passes in the world.
Unlike the 2010 team, this Spain also crosses a lot, but it is found lacking when it comes to meaningful goal-scoring chances. For all the passing and crossing, they have few touches in the penalty area and don’t shoot much, with the Netherlands having close to twice as many shots. Spain scored just 1.77 goals per 90 minutes, ranking between Hungary and Switzerland.
Why they can win?
Spain is still great at patrolling games, holding the ball while waiting for the opponent’s mistake. They have young stars coming through, with Barcelona’s fabled La Masia producing another generation of gems with Gavi, Pedri, and Ansu Fati leading the way. They are young, but also fearless. And they don’t concede much, having good balance throughout the squad.
Why they can lose?
The scoring touch is not there. It used to be David Villa and Fernando Torres up front, with Andres Iniesta conjuring up magic. Now, 30-year-old Alvaro Morata is likely to lead the line, and although he is fantastic on his day, those come far and few between. He is prone to missing big chances.
The leading stars
Of the old guard, only Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba remain, and their know-how is vital for winning. Head coach Luis Enrique might have better options on the pitch, but it remains to be seen who of the young guns will star. Off the pitch, there is no question.
The fresh faces
This will be the first World Cup for many bright young men. Spain arguably has the best talent, and if you haven’t seen them yet, put an eye on Gavi and Pedri pulling the strings in the middle. Pedri will celebrate his 20th birthday in Qatar but already stunned the world at the Euros, while 18-year-old Gavi will debut at a major tournament.