Spanish confidence quietly building for title defence

03 March 2014 01:16

Spain will start the defence of the World Cup they won for the first time in 2010 as they ended in South Africa by facing the Netherlands in Salvador on June 13.

Whilst not as decisive as when the two sides met in the final four years ago, the presence of a highly-rated Chile side alongside Australia as their opponents in Group B, allied to the prospect of a last 16 clash against Brazil for the side that finishes second in group, make it imperative for the holders to get off to a good start.

When the draw took place in December there was an initial air of pessimism around Spain's chances to continue their historic run of winning three major championships in succession.

A 3-0 beating handed down by Brazil in the Confederations Cup final last year was still fresh in the memory as Spain plodded through qualification, scoring just 14 times in eight games.

However, as winter turns to spring there is a growing sensation that there could yet be enough left in La Roja's golden generation to become the first side to retain the trophy since Brazil in 1962.

The principal issues that plagued Vicente del Bosque's side during 2013 for now appear to have worked themselves out.

Firstly, any doubts surrounding captain Iker Casillas' position as first-choice goalkeeper have been eased as despite not playing in La Liga he went nine games and over 950 minutes without conceding in the Copa del Rey and Champions League until he was finally beaten by Klass-Jan Huntelaar's spectacular consolation volley as Real Madrid thrashed Schalke 6-1 last week.

The lack of form and fitness shown by the heroes of previous triumphs in David Villa and Fernando Torres have been compensated by Diego Costa's switch of allegiance from Brazil to his adopted land, whilst Alvaro Negredo's stunning start to life with Manchester City has also made him a strong candidate to lead the line come the summer.

Between them Costa and Negredo have notched 50 goals this season and should add a directness and physical presence to Spain's play that was missing even in winning the European Championships with Cesc Fabregas as a false nine in 2012.

Costa has yet to make his debut for Spain, but was included by Del Bosque in a 22-man squad for Wednesday's friendly at home to Italy.

The absence of Torres, Villa and other World Cup winners in Juan Mata and Fernando Llorente from that squad underlined the depth of talent still on offer to Del Bosque.

Barcelona continue to be the most represented club amongst Del Bosque's latest squad with seven of the 22 coming from the Spanish champions.

And Barca boss Gerardo Martino's rotation policy could also prove beneficial to Spain come June and July.

Martino has insisted on limiting the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta's minutes to ensure there is no repeat of the 7-0 aggregate thrashing a jaded Barca suffered at the hands of Bayern Munich in last season's Champions League semi-finals.

In Iniesta's case in particular the rest accumulated appears to have worked as he has hit his best form in recent weeks as Barca's bid for trophies on three fronts reaches a decisive stage.

Finally, the performance of the Spanish sides in Europe has also stoked confidence.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid all won away from home in the first legs of their Champions League last 16 ties and whilst their progression in the competition will mean more games for a number of key players, it also demonstrates that Spain's best remain difficult to knock off their perch.

Source: AFP