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FIFA World Cup 2018 team analysis: Unbeaten Spain will look to put behind 2014 horror show

By Mark Hoover
Spain are unbeaten since Euro 2016

FIFA World Cup fixtures | Groups

In this edition of the FIFA World Cup, 32 countries have made the cut to the final stages and all of them have been pooled into eight groups of four each. myKhel.com breaks down the chances of all the countries.


Country: Spain

Placed in Group B also featuring Portugal, Iran and Morocco

Fixtures:

vs Portugal, June 15, at 11.30 PM IST (Sochi)

vs Iran, June 20, at 11.30 PM IST (Kazan)

vs Morocco, June 25, at 11.30 PM IST (Kaliningrad)

FIFA ranking: 10

Previous World Cup: 2014 (eliminated from group stages)

Best finish: Champions in 2010

Star players: David Silva (midfielder for Manchester City), David De Gea (goalkeeper for Manchester United), Sergio Ramos (defender for Real Madrid), Sergio Busquets (midfielder for Barcelona), Diego Costa (striker for Atletico Madrid)

Coach: Fernando Hierro


Spain will look to put behind a horror show in Brazil 2014, where they exited the tournament in the group stages thanks to humiliating defeats to Netherlands and Chile. They followed that with an early exit in Euro 2016 as well. However, they are headed to Russia as favourites after recapturing the form that saw them lift the trophy for the first time in 2010.

With their near-perfect record during qualification under Julen Lopetegui they were considered as the favourites of Russia 2018. After their brilliant run in recent months, they have showed that they are one of the sides to beat in the tournament.

But, how they do in the competition could come down to the sacking of Lopetegui just a day before the World Cup. Lopetegui was fired by Spanish Football Federation after Real Madrid made it public that the national team coach has agreed to join them as a coach.

Meanwhile, the RFEF announced moments later that the national side's sporting director Fernando Hierro will take over the vacant role until the end of the World Cup.


Unbeaten in their road to Russia

The FIFA World Cup 2010 winners Spain topped Europe's Group G to qualify for Russia with a game to spare ahead of Italy.

Under Lopetegui, the team ripped their way through the qualifying round by scoring 36 goals, while winning nine out of ten and drawing one game. They dumped out Italy and avenged their Euro knock out defeat. The 2010 champions have also been outstanding in friendlies, beating Belgium, France, Tunisia drawing with world champions Germany, Switzerland and thrashing Argentina 6-1.

The main secret to their recent success was coach Lopetegui, who had restored the excitement and joy which characterised the teams that won the nation's first World Cup in 2010 and reigned supreme at Euro 2008 and Euro 2012. It will be interesting to see how they do under new boss Hierro.

The former Real Madrid player, Hierro is very raw when it comes to management, with his previous stints coming with Madrid as assistant coach to Carlo Ancelotti and Real Oviedo as a manager where he had a horrible run just for a season.

Although, he comes with less experience, it shouldn't be a tough task to get the team with such good form continue what they were doing under Lopetegui.


Task ahead in Russia

Spain have been drawn in Group B along with Euro 2016 winners, Portugal, Iran and Morocco. The opener against Portugal would appear to be their toughest challenge in the group and they will need to win that to top the group and avoid a round of 16 clash with toppers of Group A.

While, a meeting with Iran and Morocco will seem a little easy on paper in comparison to Portugal, but the underdogs shouldn't be dismissed especially in a World Cup. But, if they manage to beat Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, they will get a huge boost going into those matches.


Midfield is the key

The midfield holds the key for Spain and with the rich talent available in that area of the pitch, they will have a major selection headache with the likes of David Silva, Isco, Koke and Thiago Alcantara among many others at their disposal. Plus, this midfield also includes Barcelona's maestro Andres Iniesta who will want to make the best use of his World Cup swansong.

The La Roja are technically and tactically advanced as any in the world and that quality is one reason they haven't lost since Euro 2016. The other reason is that Lopetegui, had got his side playing like the side that played during the glory days between 2008-12. Their possession game allows them to control games, and break defences with runs from midfield. Spain are also known to use a midfielder in a false nine to mix things up in case they hit a barrier.

However, there is still a slight concern about the ageing midfield. Plus, another major worry will be, an off-colour Sergio Busquets who is expected to anchor the midfield and to cope with that they don't have another player in the squad to match his profile.


Safe hands David De Gea leads the backline

Despite possessing the likes of Sergio Ramos and Gerald Pique in the back line, Spain do not have the strongest defence in the World Cup. However, their leaky defence will be protected by an invisible wall in David De Gea, who won the Premier League golden glove last season with eighteen clean sheets for Manchester United.

De Gea is considered the world's best in his position and will play a crucial role in La Roja's run this World Cup especially with an unpredictable defence in front of him.

With a 4-3-3 formation deployed and the full-backs often helping in attack, De Gea will need to cover as the third centre half or sweeper. He is too good with his feet for a goalkeeper and this adds weight to the fact that their game will be building up play with string of passes right from the back.


Prediction: Whether it is under Lopetegui or Hierro doesn't mater much as their unbeaten run ahead of the World Cup, shows Spain are expected to go through to the last eight without any trouble. However, they will face big tests from the quarter-finals onwards, where they could tougher opponents.


Other groups and teams analysis

Group C: France | Denmark | Peru | Australia

Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria

Group E: Brazil | Costa Rica | Serbia | Switzerland

Group F: Germany | Sweden | Mexico | South Korea

Group G: Belgium | Panama | England | Tunisia

Group H: Poland | Japan | Colombia | Senegal

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    Story first published: Monday, June 11, 2018, 10:51 [IST]
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