World Cup favourites: why Spain won't win in Brazil
A second World Cup would crown Spain as the greatest team ever, but is it a bridge too far?
The World Cup holders and reigning European champions go to Brazil having not lost a knockout match at a major championship since 2006, indeed they did not even concede a goal in the final stages of Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
However they are only the third favourites for the tournament behind Brazil and Argentina.
This will probably be the last hurrah for the tiki-taka specialists Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the heartbeat of the team, and with a line-up that has changed little since 2012 there is a suspicion that this unit may be past its best.
It would be foolish to underestimate a squad that is brimming over with talent and that has such an awesome track record. Victory in Brazil would cap an era of unprecedented dominance and establish this Spain team as the greatest ever, but will it be a bridge too far?
Players to watch:
Where to start? Perhaps with the subs bench, where the likes of David Silva, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla, three of the Premier League's finest, could be kicking their heels as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets run rings round the opposition. The major difference between Spain's 2014 vintage and that of 2012 is the presence of Diego Costa up front and his fitness will be key. He adds a new, direct, dimension to their play that was not there when Cesc Fabregas played as a 'false nine' in 2012. There are familiar faces like Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique at the back.
Why they could win the World Cup:
Because they are one of the greatest teams the world has ever seen, and they have won the last three major tournaments they have taken part in.
It is hard to overestimate the fear factor that two European Championships and a World Cup instills in opponents. They will fear no-one yet everyone will fear them.
And while the critics may claim that Vincent del Bosque's team is past its best and one dimensional, each of their previous triumphs came with a team subtely different from the one before it. Do not underestimate the ability of Spain to evolve yet again.
As for claims that the team is over the hill, a glance at the ages of the players reveals that only seven of the 23 in Brazil are 30 or over.
Why they might not:
The era of Spanish dominance is surely coming to an end, and although the team itself is not old, the two architects of Spain's triumphs are coming to the end of their careers. Xavi, in particular, has fallen away leaving Andres Iniesta less potent as a result.
Styles of play come and go and there is a suspicion around Europe that the tiki-taka style is on the way out. Bayern Munich demolished Barcelona in the Champions League in 2013 by playing a more muscular brand of football, and when the German side adopted tiki-taka under Pep Guardiola they too were over-run in semi finals of the Champions League.
The extra dimension that Del Bosque hopes to bring to his side in Brazil is expected to come from striker Diego Costa, but there are question marks over his fitness. It's hard to see Spain winning with Fabregas up front again.
And while the squad has talent aplenty in some departments, it looks threadbare in others. "Goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas has operated predominantly as Real Madrid's cup keeper this season, while there is a lack of quality cover at centre-back," notes the BBC.
Then there is the matter of the draw. Spain are in the same group as the Netherlands, the team they beat in the 2010 World Cup final, who will be hellbent on revenge. Dark horses Chile cannot be underestimated and Australia are no whipping boys. If they don't get into the knockout stages it would register on the Richter Scale, but that scenario cannot be overlooked.
Las Rojas' first fixture is against the Dutch, and they cannot afford a repeat of Euro 2012 when they lost to Switzerland in their opening group match. Even if they avoid defeat against the Dutch, there is the possibility of dropped points elsewhere. "Given their relatively modest scoring total, a solitary goal might be enough to take a point from them on a good day," says MSN.
If they fail to win the group, a date with Brazil in the last 16 awaits.
How far can they go?
Provided they win their group, not a foregone conclusion, then they should go deep into the competition. But getting to the final would be an impressive achievement.
What the bookies think:
Las Rojas look good for the last four and are quoted at 6/4, but their odds of retaining the title are a lot longer: 13/2. ·