In the second of a three part series, SportsNewsIreland looks at Ireland European Championship group opponents. In the first feature, we took a look at the players to watch and hopes for Ireland’s opening opponent Croatia, this time we switch our attentions to Spain.
Reigning European Champions and World cup holders Spain will enter Euro 2012 as the overwhelming favourites to pick up their third major International trophy in the last four years.
Vicente del Bosque side’s will look to cement their already assured place in history by becoming the first side to retain the trophy as well as equalling Germany’s record of three tournament wins.
The Spanish made light of qualifying winning all eight of their games in a group that contained Czech Republic, Scotland, Lithuania and Liechtenstein and in 52 games since their 2008 win they have lost just six times and drawn twice.
Players to watch
Where do you start, with the core of the World cup Champions Barcelona and La Liga winners Real Madrid on show, Spain has undoubtedly one of the strongest squads in World football.
Established names such as Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique and David Silva strike fear through Europe with the younger talents of Pedro, Juan Mata and Sergio Busquets also starting to make their own mark on football.
The Spaniards will no doubt miss the injured Carlos Puyol and that could pressure on Pique with the converted Javi Martinez and Raul Albiol vying to partner the former Manchester United defender at the back.
Spain will also head to Eastern Europe without the injured David Villa, some prominent in their recent success, but again the replacements look impressive with the much maligned Fernando Torres, not named in the provisional squad due to his club commitments, finally returning to the form of old.
Although former Real Madrid manager De Bosque is not limited in his option with Fernando Llorente and Roberto Saldado also at his disposal.
Lanky Atletico Bilbao star Llorente will head to the Euro’s on the back of an impressive season which saw him led his side to the final of the Europa League and the Copa del Rey, where they will face Barcelona.
Likewise, 26 year old Valencia striker Saldado, who has three goals in three games for the national side will head to Poland in the form of his life after bagging 27 goals in 51 games to help his side seal a Champions League spot for next season.
A La Liga winner as a player and as a manager with Real Madrid, 61 year old Del Bosque was a natural born winner before his stepped into the Spanish hot seat.
A defensive midfielder Del Bosque was capped 18 times for Spain as he formed part of a 5 times Championship winning Real Madrid side during the 1970’s and managed the Madrid B side before steeping in the big role.
As well as winning the title twice, he also led the famous club to two Champions League successes and the UEFA Super cup. However despite his success he was deemed to be a big enough name for Florentino Perez Galatico era and left the cup in 2003 shortly after their second Champions League success.
A failed stint in Turkey was followed by three years out of the game before he took over as manager of the National side from Luis Aragones following their 2008 Euro win.
Since then he has taken Spain up another level, with the possession football, so apparent at Barcelona, becoming an integral part of the Spanish play. He also marked his name in Spanish footballing history by leading the Golden Generation of Spanish football to the 2010 World Cup.
Chances of Progress
Spain will head to Poland with the expectations not just on their home country but of the entire World on their shoulders. Their biggest challenges will be Germany, who like Spain were equally impressive in qualifying and have built a good young side capable of playing attractive football, and their own demons.
Despite the success achieved with a settled squad, the questions marks have once again emerged over the ability of Barcelona and Real Madrid players’ ability to mix together at international national, especially on the back of the fiery El Classico battles witness throughout the 2011/2012 season. Their is also the added worry that Barcelona’s players could be losing their aura after a less than successful by their standard when they were outmuscled and out thought by Madrid and Chelsea respectively.
Many people will point to the first game with Italy as key for Spain, but should they lose, Spanish fans will not worry too much especially as they did after all lose to Switzerland in South Africa on their way to their World Cup triumph.
In fact the Spanish don’t have the best of records against Italy. They lost their last game against the Italian 2-1 in a friendly in Bari last August and have won just 8 of 29 clashes against their main challengers for the group.
A defeat against Italy would not bode well for Ireland as it would leave the Spanish looking for two wins and no doubt goals. Ideally Del Bosque will want to top the group and he will view the clashes with Croatia and Ireland as crucial to that.
Record against Ireland
Ireland has played Spain on 24 occasions and has managed to win just four times, two of which came during the 1940’s when they managed to snatch a 1-0 win in Madrid. In 1965 they won 1-0 at Dalymount Park and more recently back in 1989 they won by the same score line at Lansdowne Road.
In all Ireland has lost 13 times to the Spaniard, a 4-1 defeat in Paris in 1965 costing Ireland its place in at the World Cup in England with their biggest loss coming in 1952 when they lost 6-0 in Madrid.
The last meeting between the sides came at the 2002 World Cup when Ireland lost on penalties after they played out a 1-1 draw, all of which leaves Ireland with unfinished business.