Reigning world champions Spain represent the toughest challenge for the Dutch in their World Cup Group B campaign, as well as being one of Europe’s foremost opportunities of victory in the tournament on South American soil.

  • By David Lee Wheatley
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spain wcVicente Del Bosque’s men have ruled on their own continent for the last six years, with consecutive European Championship triumphs coming their way in both 2008 and 2012. Furthermore, the Spaniards took home the greatest prize of all from South Africa in 2010, their first taste of World Cup glory and impressively achieved in unfamiliar conditions to boot. Now, they travel to Brazil looking to retain the trophy and will start as one of the favourites to claim victory once again despite the heavy travelling schedule and varying environments they will encounter along the way. La Roja have chosen an experienced and well-balanced squad, but doubts exist over the current strength of their fading forward line.

Fernando Torres failed to convince yet again in Chelsea colours when hitting just five league goals last season. He’s endured a torrid time at Stamford Bridge since leaving Liverpool in 2011, but remains a mainstay of Del Bosque’s favoured selection. David Villa, now 32, has suffered serious injury problems during his time with Barcelona prior to making a switch to Atletico Madrid last summer. Collectively, his new club enjoyed a wonderful season when claiming their first La Liga title since 1996 and reaching the Champions’ League final, thus far outstripping all realistic expectations. However, Villa experienced a stop-start campaign personally through niggling fitness problems that surfaced regularly throughout proceedings. The former Valencia man says this will be his swansong in a Spain shirt and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s still capable of reprising his best form one last time. Meanwhile, Brazilian import Diego Costa appears to be their most significant attacking threat, but enters the World Cup still feeling the effects of a thigh problem which troubled him towards the end of last season at club level. The powerful striker’s fitness would seem vital to Spain’s chances of staying at the top of the global game.

Their back-line looks in rude health, however, with the Barca-Real tandem consisting of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique seemingly rock solid at the heart of defence. The inspirational leader Iker Casillas is still a highly reliable goalkeeper despite his advancing years, while options abound at full-back with Chelsea star Cesar Azpilicueta able to slot in on either side of the pitch. Raul Albiol will battle with Atletico’s Juanfran for the right-back position, while Jordi Alba aims to start at left-back. Versatile Bayern man Javi Martinez can fit in at centre-back or in a defensive midfield position, offering plenty of cover in both areas should anyone get injured or suspended. Additionally, the much-improved Manchester United keeper David De Gea is an able understudy to Real legend Casillas.

Spain also sport a delightful midfield, with cultured quad Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and David Silva all pushing at the head of the queue for places in the starting eleven. Each and every one of those superstars world-class operators and there’s no other team participating in the 2014 World Cup that can attempt to better that level of quality within their ranks. Showing the Spaniards’ deep strength in depth, they can utilise a plethora of top players across the middle of the park should a change be required thanks to the presence of Juan Mata, Koke, Pedro, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla.

It’s likely Spain will set-up in a 4-3-2-1 formation, meaning two of the aforementioned names could appear in advanced roles behind a main striker. This means pressure will be placed upon the likes of David Silva, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla to come up with plenty of assists and indeed goals throughout the tournament. There is also the option to pick Villa as one of the supporting cast moving around either Torres or Diego Costa up-front. They certainly won’t want to rely solely on one solitary forward to grab all of their goals for them, as that will be a massively limiting factor in their pursuit of success.

The Spanish national side’s approach is similar to that of the superb Barcelona side led by Pep Guardiola in parallel timing to the most successful era in the country’s footballing history internationally. Their style of play is based on two-touch passing, dynamic movement, high-pressing and swift interchange of positions, thus making them an extremely difficult proposition for any opponent.

As Holland prepare to meet Spain next Friday in a repeat of the 2010 World Cup final, both teams will feel the outcome of that decisive opening clash will determine who advances into the last-16 as winners of Group B.