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Roberto Soldado: Spain's New Hope
The selection headache continues once more for Spain, who start 11 players and leave 11 starters on the bench, as always! As the Spanish prepare for the FIFA World Cup, they take on some of the world’s best teams one year early in the Confederations Cup, and the squad that has travelled with them is rich with talent.
Spain’s manager, Vicente Del Bosque, has made it clear that the best players will play for the national team, and his precedent in benching players like David Villa or Cesc Fabregas in the past shows that he favours a winning system ahead of starting recognizable names. However, Spain is a side that has an abundance of talent that goes underused, as well. Consider that in the last European championships, Spain went without a forward for much of the early stages, choosing to utilize a sort of 4-6 formation.
Unconventional, baffling and somehow efficient, Spain used six midfielders instead of a conventional forward. Del Bosque preferred starting Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, David Silva and Xabi Alonso, instead of using Fernando Torres up top – and it worked! Spain won the 2012 EURO Cup, repeating their 2008 victory, and now enter the Confederations Cup looking very much the same as always. Except this time, Del Bosque has reverted back to the 4-3-3 and made a few changes. Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa start at fullback, with Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos playing in the middle of the backline.
Nothing new, but the absence of Carles Puyol means Spain’s new back four will likely start in this fashion in the World Cup, too. In midfield, Xavi retains his spot, but Xabi Alonso does not, with Sergio Busquets the preferred option and Cesc Fabregas starting, too. Xabi Alonso didn’t even get the call up, though it’s not because of a lack of form – he is recovering from surgery and could not make the tournament. Up top is where Spain looks most noticeably different – Andres Iniesta and Pedro get the start on the wings, and at centre forward, David Villa and Fernando Torres play second fiddle to one Roberto Soldado of Valencia. Form over familiar faces, in typical Del Bosque style.
While David Villa and Torres may be recognizable, they are just not as efficient as of late as their compatriot, Soldado. Villa netted only 10 goals last year for Barcelona, while Torres finished with eight league goals in 36 appearances. Soldado, on the other hand, scored 24 league goals, one behind another Spanish striker, Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo. Soldado gets the start due to a bit more experience, while Negredo doesn’t make the roster at all. Shame. The argument can be made that one of Roberto Soldado or Alvaro Negredo deserves
the starting spot up top ahead of Fernando Torres, but Torres has a knack of scoring important goals despite himself, and that kind of player is hard to leave at home. In a sense, Spain’s biggest enemy is itself and in choosing the wrong players for the wrong games, Spain’s dominance on the world stage may not come as a result of a superior enemy but in a mismanaged self. It’s a wonder that Spain hasn’t fallen apart onto itself so far. When one star rises, the other fades, and yet, La Furia Roja have remained pretty consistent throughout the last ten years. This team is aging together, and talent is going underused, but it is also yielding results, something that cannot be said of other national teams. Perhaps the trophies Spain collects are the only thing keeping the roster together. Team unity is on a high because of positive results, and vice versa. One must wonder if a loss in the 2013 Confederations Cup could lead to an increase of tension leading up to the big event.
It’s a question that Del Bosque needs to address eventually: How do you pick a Spanish XI? How do you keep the likes of Juan Mata and David Silva on the bench, when the alternative is benching Andreas Iniesta or Cesc Fabregas? Yet, play them all at once and there is no forward to aim for up top. No forward leads to boring football, something the Spanish were accused of during the last European championship, regardless of results.
Then there’s poor Jesus Navas, who, despite his best efforts, will always be a bench player. It’s incredible to think that this same dilemma has plagued the Spanish camp since 2008, and yet, eight years later, the selection of a clear-cut starting XI continues to prove difficult. One thing is clear: it is in Roberto Soldado that Spain’s next World Cup hopes rest. The Valencia hitman has proven himself a capable forward for Valencia for the better part of the last three years. His nation has often ignored him, though fans of Los Che have not. After David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata’s departures from Valencia, the club looked to lose out on a claim near the top of Spain’s standings – it is Soldado that has kept Valencia sharp, made them a threat in La Liga still.
Few teams could survive losing their three best players (plus Raul Albiol and Joaquin!) and remain a top club, and yet Valencia, in large part to Soldado’s form, has done just that – they have survived. Spain doesn’t need another shirt seller, another famous name in which to rally around; they need a goal scorer, and in Soldado, they have a player who does just that. The era of Raul and David Villa looks to have passed, and while Villa and Torres remain important parts of the Spanish national team, they have not produced enough to warrant a role in the starting line up. Del Bosque made it clear that only the best players would start for Spain – right now, Soldado is the best Spanish forward available to him.
It’s up to Torres and Villa to prove him wrong. They have one more season to do so. If they don’t, expect a Valencia-driven front line for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
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