Spain has assembled a 23-man squad full or poise and purpose, youth and experience, guts and glory – but is it enough to win a second World Cup?
1) No, Morata isn’t going. Stop complaining!
In an expected turn of events (after all, some of the Spanish national sports media are much more invested in Real Madrid players or, as in this case, former Real Madrid players than their own national team), head coach Julen Lopetegui was bombarded with questions regarding Alvaro Morata’s absence.
The manager was graceful enough to deflect most of them, but you could perceive he wasn’t happy with such groupie-like bickering amongst the journalists.
The truth is Morata hasn’t had a good season. Full stop. The Chelsea striker first had problems to adapt to Antonio Conte’s style and later suffered back pains. His injury worsened his stats and there are fitter and better players to choose. Plain and simple. Please stop moaning about it, fellow fanatic journalists.
🚨 OFICIAL | 46 millones de ilusiones en sus botas, en sus manos… ¡¡ESTOS SON #NUESTROS23!!
🔁 ¡RT PARA APOYARNOS! pic.twitter.com/XBx0e4uOcB
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) May 21, 2018
2) Lopetegui is smart
Other squads made their announcements at earlier dates, but they did so with pre-lists made up of thirty or thirty-five players. Coaches favor those kind of strategies as they enjoy having the biggest talent pool available at any point, waiting until the last moment to pick the final 23.
However, that has quite a few downsides: it can stir debates in the weeks running up to the World Cup, praising this or that player who might not be ideally suited for the last cut.
Again, Julen Lopetegui proved to be a true strategist. Once he picked the 23 men of his team, any controversy surrounding the choice in a country that has, as we often say, 47 million national team managers, will fade away once the friendlies are over and before the World Cup begins (see: point 1). Lopetegui announced his 23 men and *later* he added seven young players with the ‘helpers’ tag for the training sessions and friendly games ahead. Smart and logical decision-making.
3) A midfield to instill fear into the hearts of the opposition
Busquets, Saúl, Koke, Thiago, Iniesta, Silva and Isco. Might be the seven-man midfield with the most talent since…well, since those guys had also Xavi Hernández in their ranks, a few years ago. Silva has been a beast this season in the Premier League; Saúl and Koke rounded-off their season with a Europa League trophy; Busquets conquered the ‘Doblete’; Thiago dominated in the Bundesliga… and Isco will play the Champions League final.
Sneaky, versatile, great pace, absolutely amazing passing game, plenty of assisting power…if they ‘click’ into World Cup mode, the opposition has many reasons to worry.
4) Ramos, Piqué, Iniesta and passing the baton
In Iniesta’s case, he’s in for the ride. He has won absolutely everything and everywhere, capping his Barcelona run with a La Liga title and the Copa del Rey. He hasn’t spoken about retirement from the national team, but it seems clear that his move to the Japanese league implies he won’t have the same pace in the future and, therefore, playing for Spain will be much tougher.
His last big tournament, therefore, has a strong emotional component for everyone involved, including team-mates. He was, after all, the guy who scored the goal in Spain’s only World Cup win to date in 2010.
Once Iniesta is gone, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué will be the veterans in charge. Although Piqué has had his fair share of criticism from the fans due to political and external reasons, his commitment to the national side has always been top notch. In Ramos’ case, things are much easier: he’s been the first captain and main source of guts and ‘balls’ since Carles Puyol left, and he’s been consistent enough this season with Real Madrid to predict that he has quite a few years left playing for Spain inside him.
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) May 23, 2018
5) Youngsters to the rescue
Check out the seven fringe players to the main squad (Carlos Soler, Iñaki Williams, Oyarzabal, Rodri…) and you can see just how young and talented they are. Everyone expects them to increase the competitiveness in every single training session and give the ‘main’ players a run for their money. It’s also a chance to see them with the national squad shirt in action, just in case there’s the occasional and unfortunate injury of another team mate.
But, if you actually squint harder, you can see how youth has swept over the whole squad: Kepa (23 years-old), Odriozola (22), Marco Asensio (22)… The much needed regeneration after the 2014 and 2016 disasters is complete. Spain is ready to rumble once again.