You may remember my post about Spain from last year:
That tells you pretty much all I want to tell you about Spain The Country. This post will actually focus pretty heavily on Spain The Team. Why?
Because Spain is one of the five teams I think have a realistic shot to win the tournament.
Let us begin at the beginning. For decades, the Spanish National Team was an embarrassment. They were a team of underachievers who played very well in club teams but couldn’t put anything together in any major tournament.
The list is long:
– After a 4th place finish in Brazil 50, Spain could not qualify for Switzerland 54, Sweden 58, México 70, and Germany 74.
– Spain couldn’t get out of the group in Chile 62, England 66, Argentina 78, and France 98
– As HOST, Spain lost in the first knockout game in 1982. They would also lose the first knockout game in Italy 1990 and Germany 2006.
– Even more frustrating, those early exits were sandwiched around Quarterfinal losses in México 86, USA 94, and Korea/Japan 2002.
And then Barcelona happened. It’s no coincidence that the rise and triumph of Spanish National Team fútbol came on the heels of Barcelona’s ascendancy.
Barcelona has always played differently. It is the Spanish Ying to Real Madrid’s Yang. Disputes between players from each team were always part of the reason the Spanish National Team never accomplished anything. They were never really a team.
As Barcelona started to dominate club fútbol and win trophies, the bosses at the Spanish federation paid attention. Two critical things happened that allowed Barcelona’s success to translate to the National Team:
1- The coaches implemented a style of play that very closely mimicked the Barcelona style of play and selected many Barcelona players for games.
2- The players from the other teams, most notably Real Madrid, put down their egos and adopted the style for the betterment of the team.
Those two things made all the difference. After years of frustration and too early exits, the Spanish finally broke through in the European Championship in 2008.
They followed that up by winning the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship again in 2012.
All of a sudden, Spain was a world power.
And then they got embarrassed… Twice.
Atlético Madrid just won the Europa League Final this week. Real Madrid is heavily favoured to beat Liverpool in the Champions League Final next weekend.
Oh, and neither team won the Spanish League. That was Barcelona. Again. For the 3rd time in 4 years and 4th time in 6.
In the glory years of the Spanish National Team, Barcelona featured heavily. As the players have gotten older and some have retired and new faces have come in, the style of play has shifted. Heck, not even Barcelona play now the way they did in their heyday.
The National Team, however, has retained the trust among the players, the camaraderie, the knowledge of how to succeed, and the confidence of knowing very few teams can stop them.
The Spanish have learned the lessons of their embarrassing group stage exit in Brazil 2014 and their first knockout round exit in Euro 2016.
Real Madrid are now the kings of international club fútbol. If they win the Champions League next week, it will be their 13th, most among all teams, and their third in a row and fourth in five years.
Not coincidentally, the Spanish National Team now has more Real players than Barcelona players. And they play a different style more similar to Real Madrid’s.
Do you see the pattern?
15 JUN 2018 – 21:00 Local time, 11:00 Pacific, Fisht Stadium, Sochi
PORTUGAL v SPAIN
20 JUN 2018 – 21:00 Local time, 11:00 Pacific, Kasan Arenal, Kasan
IRAN v SPAIN
25 JUN 2018 – 20:00 Local time, 11:00 Pacific, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
SPAIN v MOROCCO
I could cut and paste this from my Portugal preview. In fact, I will:
The toughest game is the first. If either team wins, they win the group. In case of a tie, it will depend on goal differential in the other two games. In reality, Portugal and Spain are leaps above Morocco and Iran, so their World Cup will not really begin until the Elimination stages. At that point, the winner of Group B plays the runner-up of Group A and vice versa. Group A consists of Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay.
Assuming Uruguay win the group, the winner of Group B gets to play either Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Egypt. In my earlier previews, I predicted that Egypt would get the second slot. That pretty much spells a trip to the Quarterfinals for the winner of Group B, doesn’t it?
So, assuming a tie between the two powers in the first game, the next two games will be a question of playing “Whatever you can do, I can do better”.
This is where I will deviate from the other preview.
Portugal has Ronaldo, but Spain has a better defense and more scoring options through the midfield.
A frenetic tie in the first game followed by two wins. The only question is whether they will outscore Portugal against the lesser teams. I say they do. First place in the group.
The gastronomy of Spain is so varied and regionally different that it’s difficult to pick just one dish. Therefore, I present to you my favourite Spanish dishes:
And last, but not least,