After months of debate, Vicente del Bosque finally put Spain and the rest of the world out of its misery and announced his final 23 man squad. There were a number of welcome surprises – the addition of Pedro in particular delighting many members of the assembled press; but also some wariness at the omission of midfielder Marcos Senna, the midfielder who has served as a defensive lynchpin so many times for Spain.
Young Pedro Rodríguez Ledesma, has become a vital part of the Barcelona set-up under manager Josep Guardiola. The twenty-two year old has formed an effective front three with fellow graduates of the La Masia academy, Lionel Messi and Bojan. Guardiola has overseen the development of the player from rash youngster to competent, intelligent talent. He may not participate in much of the action in South Africa, with strike partners Fernando Torres and David Villa very much secure in the starting eleven, but his presence will be a boon for the European champions should they seek to inject extra energy into the final third.
Athletic Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente has been capped by Spain before but his participation in the World Cup was thrown into doubt by some strong competition from other strikers. At 6ft 5in Llorente is undoubtedly an aerial threat unlike any other possessed by del Bosque. This aerial presence adds another dimension to an already well-endowed Spanish attack and will be called upon should the ground game run into difficulty. With dead ball specialists aplenty in the side, Xavi, Cesc and Capdevilla to name but three, there will be plenty of ammunition for Llorente from corners and free kicks.
Championed by the Catalan for months, Víctor Valdés will be overjoyed to have secured a well earned berth in the final 23. Faced with stern opposition from rivals David De Gea and Diego Lopez, Valdés showed more confidence than in previous seasons and greatly improved on his command over the Barcelona defence. Lopez and De Gea’s early season promise had dropped off considerably in the final weeks of the season and this is likely to have influenced Del Bosque’s decision.
Perhaps the single area that has been overlooked is a solid, combatative defensive midfielder. This is easily disregarded when you consider Xavi, Xabi, Cesc etc but the leaving out of Villarreal’s naturalised Brazilian Marcos Senna must have been a difficult decision for Vicente Del Bosque to make considering Senna’s presence in the victorious Euro 2008 campaign. While Senna’s legs may not have the sprightliness of his fellow midfielders, Senna’s dogged and tireless haranguing of the opposition would be more than useful in a tournament where there are a number of squads with the potential to overrun the possessive Spanish carousel. It may not prove to be a crucial omission but there are times during the upcoming World Cup when I feel Del Bosque might feel that he could have done with Senna around.
It is difficult to cite a squad with as much quality in all areas as this particular Spanish side. The tremendous strength in the depth enjoyed by Spain is frightening. The three goalkeepers selected might rank amongst the top ten in Europe, the centre-back partnership of Piqué and Puyol has been resilient over the course of the season, Ramos and Capdevilla offer the requisite defensive acumen and competency on the attack. The midfield carousel is capable of controlling the football for over 60% of the time in every fixture and the strike partnership of Torres and Villa is surely the most potent in the competition.
I cannot contemplate Spain not having a successful World Cup, they should at least reach the Quarter Finals and they are rightly listed as favourites alongside Brazil. The lack of a realistic challenger to their majesty in the Group might affect them come the knock-out stages. The tag of ‘bottlers’ has been applied to both Spain and the Netherlands frequently in the past but capturing the European Championship in 2008 may allow them to lay that burdensome tag to rest at last.