Spain faces off against Georgia today, at 1:30 PM EST/ 12:30 PM Central, on their first game en route to Brazil 2014.
Vicente Del Bosque has done his best to convince his team that this will not be an easy road to the next World Cup, and that every point will count. Spain will have to face France as its toughest rival in the group and there is only one spot that qualifies a team straight to the final round.
Although Georgia is a fairly weak rival for a team that has won the last two Euros and the last World Cup, Del Bosque wants to make sure his players are ready for battle, should they need to fight tooth and nail against the former Soviet Republic. Even though Spain has not lost any of the last 45 games they have played in a World Cup qualifier (last defeat was in 1993), Del Bosque knows that his team is his own worst enemy, and wants to keep everyone on their toes from the get-go.
In order to do this he is determined to shake things up in the starting eleven, and more specifically up front.
During the 2012 Euro the main debate revolved around whether Spain needed to play with a striker or not. Some factions of the press in the country defended the classical approach of always setting up a reference in the attack, a target man. Llorente, Torres and Negredo were the three men called up to do the job, since Villa, Spain’s best goal scorer in history, was seriously injured.
However, and while Torres and Negredo did enjoy some playing time, the chosen one for the job was Cesc Fabregas. The Catalan grew up as an attacking midfielder in Barcelona, at 16 he joined Arsenal, where he became one of the world’s best box to box after Vieira’s departure, and then returned home to become the new Xavi.
But what Pep Guardiola found out was that Cesc was a more dedicated version of Messi, not as fancy and effective in front of the opponent’s goal, but definitely a player with a knack for the attack, with a tremendous vision and also highly-skilled in the art of providing the last pass.
Del Bosque took his prowess at Barcelona as a sign and shocked the world when he started Cesc in front of Silva, Iniesta and Xavi in the Euro. He did very well in his new position, netting two goals in the tournament and providing the assist that allowed Silva to score the first goal of the final.
But while having Cesc in the front provides the team with another brain to help out in the middle in the highly crafted style Spain has so blatantly championed, while still maintaining the tension up top with a player who is no stranger to goal-scoring, Del Bosque was clear on the fact that moving forward… he needed a forward.
In this most recent call up, Soldado has joined Torres, while Villa has returned after his long injury. During the Euro, Torres was coming out of one of his worst streaks with Chelsea (although he scored against Barcelona in the semis of the UEFA Champions League), Llorente was so physically exhausted after a long and fruitful season in Bilbao that Del Bosque didn’t even play him for a minute in the tournament, and Negredo patiently waited his turn on the bench, and found his reward in the semifinal match against Portugal.
Del Bosque considered he did not have the right means to play with a forward up top, as he did in the 2010 World Cup, when Villa was in tip top shape and Llorente hammered through defenses whenever needed; and even Torres, coming out of knee surgery, was important in the minutes he did spend on the pitch.
And so, his choice to place Cesc in the hot seat was nothing short of brilliant, and the FC Barcelona player thanked him with great performance after great performance.
Now, thinking ahead, Del Bosque knows he has two years to find the perfect player for the spot.
Torres will be 30 by the time Brazil 2014 rolls around, and he may be in the best time of his career, or he may be long forgotten; the next two years at Chelsea will be crucial. Villa will be 32 and his recovery from the injury he suffered in the last FIFA Club Championship is still TBD. If he is able to retain the speed he had before the surgery, he will be the main forward of the team, without a doubt, but he also faces two key years of preparation and high expectations.
Llorente has been the third wheel both in the last Euro and the last World Cup, and he could potentially be the target man the team needs. He is tall, strong, has great heading skills and has enough technical abilities with the ball on his feet to mesh well with the rest of the team.
Then, Del Bosque has the cases of Soldado, Negredo and Adrian. All great younger players and all different in their playing style. The three of them have demonstrated, at some point in time, that they have the right to play on this team, and if needed, the National Team coach will not doubt be calling one of them up.
Soldado has the speed and finesse of a midfielder, but is always looking to position himself in order to have the best chance on goal; he is the most similar to David Villa. Negredo is the fighter, the man who can scare the defenders and is tough as a wall of bricks. If he is able to maintain a decent scoring average in the next two seasons (around the 20 goal mark per season) Del Bosque will surely call him again, as he loves his work on the field.
Finally, Adrian is the player that most resembles the style of Torres. He is fast, highly-skilled, and sometimes becomes a better provider than a goal scorer. Like Torres during the Euro 2008, when he played behind Villa the entire tournament, always looking for him, always trying to set him up, Adrian has become Radamel Falcao’s best ally at Atletico Madrid, and his great season was not overlooked by Del Bosque.
Coming from behind, Isco and Alvaro Vazquez are two of the biggest talents in Spanish soccer, and depending on their development in the next two seasons, and the needs of the team up front, they may have their glory day come June 2014.
The good thing for Spain, and for Vicente Del Bosque, is that there is enough talent for the team to fill the forward spot with one of the best players in the world. And if not, Cesc can always take the responsibility.