Friday 13 June 2014

Written by Timothy Hock-An Balaguru, Class of 2014, Junior 2 Cempaka

The Spanish have always been a very watchable team. Yet for many years, this beautiful, eye-catching football did not translate into results. 

When Vicente Del Bosque took charge of the team in 2008, something clicked. Their football was still as aesthetically pleasing as it had always been, but there was a difference. At the 2008 European Championships, the Spanish national team won their first European Championship title in 44 years. They added the World Cup to their collection two years later, and added another European Championship crown to their collection for good measure in 2012. Del Bosque had succeeded in turning a group of talented players into an all-conquering, world-class unit. 

Fast forward two years, and cracks have begun to develop. Teams have learnt how to play against the exponents of tiki-taka, by defending deep and hitting them with vicious counterattacks. Spain aren’t particularly big in stature, making them vulnerable to set pieces and crosses. They also often lack the cutting edge which many of their opponents possess, often resulting in critics calling them one-dimensional. 

Despite this, there is no doubting the fact that Spain are still a force to be reckoned with and there is no better way for them to silence their detractors than by winning their second consecutive World Title. Del Bosque has a plethora of the finest players at his disposal. In midfield, he has the luxury of choosing from a group of elite players, such as the Barcelona foursome of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Fabregas, as well as the likes of Xabi Alonso, Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and David Silva, among others. Many of these players would be amongst the first names on the team-sheet if they represented any other country but when playing for Spain, they often struggle to break into the first eleven. 

While their squad is laced with international stars from top to bottom, one name in particular excites me. Spain have often played without a recognised striker. Instead of conventional formations which employ a frontman or two, Del Bosque has often played with six midfielders and no striker. This is because his squad contains so many great midfielders. By playing as many of them as possible, he is playing to his team’s strengths. However, this formation often lacks incisiveness and penetration, and therefore Spain may struggle to break down defensively compact teams. 

I cannot fault Del Bosque, though. He has not had a truly world class striker since David Villa exited his prime. Fernando Torres flatters to deceive by scoring the odd inconsequential goal, whereas other recent call-ups like Fernando Llorente, Roberto Soldado and Alvaro Negredo have been inconsistent and struggled for form or fitness. This leaves him with no choice but to play without a striker and when it doesn’t pay off, he is often left bereft of ideas. 

This is where Diego Costa comes into the picture. The funny thing is, Costa is not even Spanish. He was born in Brazil to Brazilian parents and has even represented Brazil twice. In September 2013, he received citizenship from the Spanish government and shortly after, turned his back on his country of origin to represent his newly adopted nation. This decision was met with great outrage from the Brazilian public and even the coach of Brazil, Scolari, who stopped just short of calling Costa a traitor. They have probably grown even more bitter towards Costa, having just seen him finish the best season of his career by far, in which he netted 36 times in all competitions for Atletico Madrid. 

For Spain and Del Bosque however, he could be the answer to their shortage of quality strikers. If he fires, Spain will have the option of playing with a man up front, as well as the alternative of sticking to their “False-9”, striker-less formation. He also possesses great strength and aerial ability, which is something the Spanish attack desperately requires, especially against the more physical teams in the competition. At the end of the day, there is a fine line between victory and defeat, and Diego Costa might well be the man who makes the crucial difference. Who knows, that might mean scoring the decisive goal which knocks his country of birth out of the World Cup...

Key Players: Diego Costa

Previews of the teams from Brazil, Spain, Germany, England, Argentina, France, Belgium and the Netherlands will be published on the Lumen Studet. Next: Germany.


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