Remarkable when considering the rich sporting history of Spain, home of genuine football royalty in the shape of Real Madrid and Barcelona, the national team conjured up just one major tournament victory during the 20th century. That was back in 1964, when Spain hosted and won the European Nations Cup, as the continental championship was called in those days.
Spain has always produced excellent footballers, although aside from one Euro 1964 win, the national team had never quite managed to demonstrate its full potential, until the golden generation emerged when La Roja won EURO 2008. The late, great, Luis Aragonés was the mastermind behind that benchmark triumph, forging a truly united side amongst the broad and varied range of talents available.
Three blissful tournaments for La Roja
Contrary to popular belief, Aragonés was responsible for the famed ‘tiki-taka’ style of play embraced by Spain, and when he stepped aside after the tournament victory, successor Vicente del Bosque decided to continue using the same pass-and-move approach. Coincidentally, it was also following
EURO 2008 when Pep Guardiola took the top job at FC Barcelona, rising to the top job having coached their B team.
Barcelona became the club side synonymous with the ‘tiki-taka’ style, as Guardiola brought unprecedented success to Barcelona, making it inevitable Spain would come to rely heavily on their leading players. No less than seven Barcelona players were the
beating heart for La Roja, particularly the dynamic midfield motor driven by Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, as they went on to win the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
But whichever clubs they hailed from, every component of the Spain squad was perfectly suited to the overall tactics and style, as Vicente del Bosque made the most of this golden generation. Ask any pundits of during this era, most of the top footballers in the world were Spanish, and the international dominance continued with a third consecutive tournament success, when La Roja lifted the Henri Delaunay Trophy again at UEFA Euro 2012.
Fall from grace and readiness to rise again
Heading into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as reigning champions, the general consensus of opinion remained that Spain was the team to beat. However, their bid to retain the crown fell apart when they were thrashed 5-1 in the opening match by the Netherlands. The subsequent 2-0 loss to Chile was the nail in the coffin, and the tournament was already over for La Roja, when they beat Australia 3-0 in the final group match.
Euro 2016 was viewed as the opportunity to earn redemption, but when Spain was handily beaten 2-0 by Italy in the Round of 16, Spain’s golden generation was truly
over. Julen Lopetegui took the helm just after Euro 2016, guiding the national team on a wonderful run, winning 14 and drawing 6 of his 20 games in charge. Incredibly, his decision to accept the Real Madrid job, with the team already heading to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, ultimately ended his tenure right on the eve of the tournament. Fernando Hierro took charge, although Spain was eliminated in the Round of 16 by Russia.
Luis Enrique was appointed as the manager of Spain in July 2018. Unfortunately, the death of his daughter after illness led to a pause, when assistant Robert Moreno took charge for 9 games, before the return of Enrique in November 2019. Since then, his tenure has been marked by introducing exciting new players, along with bringing a newfound sense of resolve that carried Spain to the Euro 2020 semi-finals, beaten eventually by Italy via penalties.
Tournament in Qatar is the chance to shine
Debates raged in Spain about the selection choices of Enrique, just ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, given the abundance of talented options available. But his decisions incorporated what could be regarded as the new golden generation, given that 14 members of the squad are aged 25 or under. There is valuable veteran experience too, with seven established 30-plus players, including the likes of Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.
Following a positive start at the tournament, beginning with the 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica, then a tense but equally thrilling 1-1 draw against Germany, any result but defeat against Japan will guarantee Spain are in the Round of 16. Firmly back in the fold as one of the
WC Football favourites, based upon analysis for top online bookmakers via SBO, competitive odds and offers appear to be leaning towards a big push for the trophy by La Roja.
Now the youngest goalscorer at a World Cup tournament since Pele, 18-year-old Gavi has marked himself, along with other exciting young club colleagues from Barcelona. These include 19-year-old fellow midfielder Pedri, 20-year-old forward Ansu Fati, plus 21-year-old centre-back Eric Garcia and 19-year-old full-back Alejandro Balde. Even if they don’t lift the trophy this year, these players could be the driving force within a new generation over the next decade.