Spain would become the first nation to win the European Championship four times if they can add Euro 2020 to their collection, and while they are widely considered only fourth or fifth favourites behind France, England, Belgium and even Germany, there is plenty of reason to be hopeful they can lift the trophy at Wembley on 11 July.
For starters, Luis Enrique’s side are unbeaten in their past 23 matches, a run stretching back two and a half years. Their form peaked with a 6-0 victory over Germany in the Nations League last November which sent shockwaves across Europe. If it said plenty about Germany’s frailties, the match also revealed that this young and dynamic Spanish side can be devastating when they press high and force their opponents into mistakes.
As one of the 11 host nations, Spain play all of their group stage matches at home in Seville, and it is another reason why they are the overwhelming favourites to top Group E. Should they come through the group and subsequent round of 16 unscathed, a meeting with England in Rome could well be on the cards, a heavyweight encounter from which the winner would probably be expected to go on and reach the final, given France would likely be on the opposite side of the draw.
Spain do not have quite the roll call of stars of yesteryear, more so since Luis Enrique opted against selecting the Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, but they have a competitive squad with quality in every position. In goal David de Gea may well find himself ousted by Athletic’s Unai Simon; Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba faces the challenge of Valencia’s Jose Gaya; there are options in the holding role with Barca’s Sergio Busquets (he has contracted Covid-19 and is set to miss the opening game) and Manchester City’s Rodri. Then there is the new addition, Aymeric Laporte, Manchester City’s French defender who recently switched national allegiances to Spain, helping to give Luis Enrique the foundation of a hard team to beat.
The manager is likely to play his favoured 4-1-4-1 system with Alvaro Morata leading the line, although Villarreal’s prolific Gerard Moreno will vie for a starting spot. Ferran Torres scored a hat-trick against Germany and he is likely to play a significant role in the Euros, given his end-of-season form for Manchester City. Thiago Alcantara finished the season brightly for Liverpool and will be an important midfield cog.
This is the first Spain side at a major tournament to be without Real Madrid players, so they certainly won’t be dogged by El Clasico factions, nor by expectation given their lack of stardust. But if they build up a head of steam they will take some stopping, and just quietly may leave their mark on yet another European Championship.
(All times BST)
14 June (8pm): Spain vs Sweden – Estadio La Cartuja, Seville
19 June (8pm): Spain vs Poland – Estadio La Cartuja, Seville
23 June (5pm): Slovakia vs Spain – Estadio La Cartuja, Seville
Goalkeepers: David de Gea (Manchester United), Unai Simón (Athletic), Robert Sánchez (Brighton & Hove Albion).
Defenders: José Gayà (Valencia), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Eric García (Manchester City), Diego Llorente (Leeds United), César Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Marcos Llorente (Atlético).
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Rodri Hernández (Manchester City), Pedri (Barcelona), Thiago Alcántara (Liverpool), Koke (Atlético), Fabián Ruiz (Napoli).
Forwards: Dani Olmo (Leipzig), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Gerard Moreno (Villarreal), Álvaro Morata (Juventus), Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Adama Traoré (Wolves), Pablo Sarabia (PSG).
Spain coach Luis Enrique on selecting 24 players instead of 26: “We don’t want to take any more because we want everyone to have a chance of playing, and we know that only around 18 or 19 will actually play.”
Ones to watch
Star man: Thiago Alcantara
Having finished the season strongly for Liverpool, he will be tasked with much of the tempo-setting that the recent great Spanish sides derived from Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Breakout talent: Ferran Torres
The 21-year-old winger will be playing in his first major tournament, and despite being on the fringes for much of Manchester City’s season his cameos were increasingly impressive as he reaped the rewards of Pep Guardiola’s coaching. He will be fresh and full of confidence, and a danger for every opponent he faces.
Spain can win the tournament but then so can many teams, such is the quality across Europe right now, and they are not among the top tier of favourites. But should they win the group then they are unlikely to face France until the final, so perhaps the big question is, should they face England in the quarter-finals, will they triumph? If so, a deep run awaits. Semi-finals.
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