Why you shouldn’t pencil Spain in as 2012 European Champions
Over the past 4 years, it’s been easy to tell who the best national team on the planet has been. Spain has racked up an impressive pair of tournament wins in the 2008 European Championships and 2010 South African World Cup and, over that stretch, the reigning European and World Champions have looked every bit the best national side in the world.
But in the two years since that 2010 World Cup victory, some cracks and uncertainty has begun to creep in with regard to the health, age and consistency in the Spanish squad. In the meantime, a couple of Spain’s biggest challengers have experienced the opposite with an explosion of good form amongst their players both on the club level and national team level.
Let’s focus on the Spain first though. What was once a solid attacking front for the Red Fury has been riddled with injury in the past year. Along with Fernando Torres’ on-again, off-again form, Spain now has another huge question mark in its attack. David Villa was injured at the Club World Championships in Japan in January while playing for Barcelona and has yet to play a meaningful match for club or country since suffering what was a major knee injury. In addition to the worries of who is healthy or in-from enough to play forward, Spain also has injury concerns in the backline. Carlos Puyol, who has been a staple of La Roja’s backline through both of their last international championship runs, is out of Euro 2012 with an injured left knee and Gerard Pique, his national team and club team centerback partner has experienced his own ups and downs throughout the season, both injury related and form related.
The questions do not stop there for Spain though. The staples of Spain’s central midfield are now both on the wrong side of 30 with Xabi Alonso now at 30 years of age and Xavi Hernandez, Barcelona’s once injury-free midfield maestro, now up at 32 years of age and coming off a season in which even he spent some time out fighting the injury bug. I’m not saying that Spain has no chance to win in the European Championships. The country still pumps out new talent at a pace few countries can compete with and they will surely thrust some new stars out on the national scene this summer and into the future but the days of Spain having a lineup full of automatic “pencil-them-in” starters looks like it has passed.
On the other side of the spectrum, Germany and the Netherlands, Spain’s two biggest threats, have grown stronger, more mature and the major players on both squads have begun to break out all over the European scene.
For example, the Netherlands now look even more dangerous than they were at the time of the 2010 World Cup when they went up against Spain in the World Championship match. Both of the Big Orange Machine’s starting strikers finished their respective club seasons as the leading scorers in their league. Robin Van Persie topped the English Premier League with 30 goals for Arsenal this past season and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar took home the Bundesliga scoring crown on his way to being the only player not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to score more than 45 goals in Europe this year with a staggering 48 goals in 47 matches. In addition, the whole squad – for once – appears to be healthy heading into summer competition and Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben, the squad’s featured attacking midfield trio, are all coming off great seasons and appear to be in top form. It’s not just the Clockwork Orange attack that is looking good though. Gregory van der Weil and the rest of the Holland defense are a couple of years older and more experienced while Maarten Stekelenberg is looking more solid than ever in net.
Spain’s biggest challenge this year, however, may come from Germany. The ever-steady “Mannschaft” has been gaining some needed player experience in the last couple of years and a number of their players have also come into the spotlight over the past season. The player with the most notable rise in form in the past couple of years has been Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil, who led all of Europe this past year with 23 assists in the midfield while netting 6 times himself. Marco Reus and Lukas Podolski also had fine 18-Goal seasons of their own in the German Bundesliga. Podolski, in fact, played so well that he was signed by English Premier League side, Arsenal to play forward next season. Then there’s the fact that half of Germany’s starting lineup is made up of member’s of Bayern Munich starters and that team was good enough to reach the Champions League final as a whole while spending the entire campaign playing on the same team. Among the Bayern stars worth highlighting were Mario Gomez, who dropped in 41 goals in all competitions and Manuel Neuer who was arguably the best keeper in the 2011/2012 Champions League.
So, in conclusion, there has certainly been a good run of fortune for the Spanish National side over the last 4 years winning both of the world’s major international trophies but days at the top of the FIFA national team rankings and their days as champions of Europe may be numbered. Indeed, there is an air of uncertainty in the Spanish camp these days and there is a good reason why. The Germans and Dutch have been knocking on the door for some time now and both countries look poised to break the door down this time around and crash Spain’s party. Who knows!? Maybe the Spaniards have one more run left in them, maybe even a couple, but it would appear from an outsider’s perspective that the championship window may be closing for La Roja.