By Richard Martin
MADRID (Reuters) – With a potent mix of hungry youngsters and seasoned veterans who have already triumphed at international tournaments, Spain boast all the ingredients to re-establish themselves as the best team in the world in Russia and reclaim the crown they won in 2010.
Spain were seemingly invincible for four years with three successive tournament wins playing mouth-watering football, but since winning Euro 2012 they have flopped in their last two tournaments under coach Vicente del Bosque.
His successor Julen Lopetegui, a stalwart of the national teams youth programme, has helped to re-ignite their attacking verve and restored the belief they can conquer the world again.
Spain tore their way through their World Cup qualifying group, winning nine out of 10 games while scoring 36 times and outclassing nearest challengers Italy 3-0.
In their last friendly outing, they blew away 2014 World Cup finalists Argentina with a stunning 6-1 win.
Weaknesses are hard to find in Spain’s squad, which is packed with players from La Liga heavyweights Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid and outstanding Premier League performers such as Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and Manchester City playmaker David Silva.
Silva, midfield puppet master Andres Iniesta and captain Sergio Ramos have been in the team since the Euro 2008 triumph while Barcelona pairing Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique have been around since the 2010 World Cup win in South Africa.
Then there are the next generation of players such as Atletico’s Koke, Real’s Isco and Dani Carvajal, Valencia forward Rodrigo and Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara as well as De Gea who won the under-21 European Championship in 2013 with Lopetegui as coach.
“A lot of the players have been in the national team since they were children and that’s important for me because since a young age they’ve been used to going to international tournaments, playing against the best from every country,” Lopetegui said.
“The best team is always the best mix of different generations; we have that and we’ll try and make sure it’s a good mix.”
Spain have been handed a tough draw. European champions Portugal are first up in Group B — a match which is likely to decide who will finish top. They also face Iran and Morocco.
If Lopetegui’s side win the group they are likely to face either Uruguay or Egypt in the last 16, with a possible mouthwatering quarter-final against Argentina, Croatia or France coming next.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Martyn Herman)