Start of a new era for Spain under Julen Lopetegui

Euro 2016

Just over a month after being appointed as the new head coach of Spain, Julen Lopetegui has named his first squad, from which there have been three extremely notable omissions.

Specifically the former Porto manager has overlooked Iker Casillas, as well as the Chelsea duo of Cesc Fabregas and Pedro, for Spain’s upcoming matches against Belgium and Liechtenstein next month.

Lopetegui designs new Spanish squad

In total Lopetegui has made nine changes from his predecessor Vicente Del Bosque’s last squad, as the 49-year-old aims to guide Spain to qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

As well as deciding not to select either Casillas, – who is his country’s record appearance holder with 167 caps – or the experienced pair of Fabregas and Pedro, Lopetegui has also left out of his maiden squad another half-a-dozen players who were members of Del Bosque’s Euro 2016 group.  Those players are Aritz Aduriz, Hector Bellerin, Juanfran, Mikel San Jose, Sergio Rico and Bruno Soriano.

In place of those players, Lopetegui has invited into his squad nine others, who either did not feature regularly or at all, for Spain towards the end of Del Bosch’s era.

Whilst recalling Marcos Asensio, Dani Carjaval, Diego Costa, Javi Martinez, Juan Mata, Pepe Reina, Sergi Roberto and Vitolo, Lopetegui has also included in his 24-man squad the uncapped pair of West Ham goalkeeper Adrian and Saul Niguez, who is a 21-year-old midfielder for Atletico Madrid.

Del Bosque succeeded by Lopetegui

As such, there is a distinctly different look to Lopetegui’s squad from the one which Del Bosque last named, which represents the start of a new era for La Rioja, after their disappointing Euro 2016 campaign.  Although that campaign began positively with group stage wins over both the Czech Republic and Turkey, it derailed thereafter.

Specifically whilst Spain lost their final group stage game to Croatia, when Del Bosque’s players appeared to lose much of their composure and confidence, they were then eliminated from the tournament in the second round by virtue of being comprehensively beaten 2-0 by a tactically superior Italian side.

Almost in the immediate aftermath of that defeat Del Bosque resigned, just as he announced his intention to do at the end of 2015, as Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol begun their search for the 65-year-old successor.

That search ceased last month when Lopetegui, who has previously coached Spain’s U-19, U-20 & U-21 teams, was confirmed as the new manager of Spain, for whom the former Barcelona goalkeeper played once in 1994, at which time he was excelling in goal for Logrones.

Lopetegui’s modest managerial career

After retiring as a player in 2002, the next year Lopetegui assumed the role of assistant to Spain’s U-17 manager Jan Santisteban, whilst also taking charge of Rayo Vallecano.  Nevertheless his managerial reign of the Madrid-based club lasted just six months.

Lopetegui’s next managerial job was with Real Madrid Castilla, of whom he took charge for the 2008-2009 season, before going on to coach various Spanish youth teams from 2010 to 2014.  In the middle of the latter year, Lopetegui was appointed head coach of Porto, although he was relieved of that duty in January, after being unable to guide the Portuguese giants to win a single piece of silverware during his season-and-a-half in charge of the club.

Therefore given his relatively limited managerial experience, the world of football will observe the evolution of Lopetegui’s era as manager of Spain with the utmost interest.

Euro 2016 signals the end of an era for Spain


One of the biggest differences between International football and club football is that with the money being around today the big football clubs rarely stop winning. But for Internationals it doesn’t and can’t work that way, it’s who you are that determines where you end up playing. And in short that’s why clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Chelsea may go a season or two without winning a trophy but it won’t be as everlasting as a great international teams demise.

That team in question are Spain undoubtedly the best footballing nation of the last decade. In four glorious years between 2008 and 2012 they won two European Championships, back to back and in between their first World Cup. What made the wins extra special was that we could never doubt their legitimacy- they were quite simply the best side at each of their tournaments. They recorded wins over nations that try as they might always used to beat them, Germany and Italy being two prime examples. In the 2012 European Championship final they didn’t just beat Italy but they humiliated one of the great nations that pride themselves on defence with a deserved 4-0 hammering. Some wondered just how long their dominance could last- could they for example add another World Cup and become just the third team in history to win it back to back?

Well the answer was emphatically no- at the Brazilian World Cup in 2014 they lost their grip on a major tournament for the first time since 2006 when they crashed out of the group stages. That of course was a shock in itself- but it was the way they lost, 5-1 against Holland and then 2-0 against Chile, they had conceded 7 goals in two games and headed one of the most fearsome lists that no one wants as one of the worst defending champions.

After the World Cup 2014 Del Bosque handed his resignation in but it was ignored by the Spanish federation and he continued on to Euro 2016. Here in the knock out round of 16 Spain were humbled by the old guard Italy 2-0. Old guard because Italy had haunted the Spanish for so long, and now after Spain seemingly over coming their mental block to one of the European greats it was back again- everything was.

For the first time on Monday evening the feeling was there for anyone to witness – we could have been watching any Spanish performance from the 1980s or 90s, a side packed with talented players but play that lingered on frustration. They were in short easily found out.

Something within the side has stalled and it’s not just the fact that star players such as Andreas Iniesta are getting and looking old. The old thought process seems to have returned and for the first time in a long time possession was not held, in the end it was almost 50-50. Del Bosque was quick to point out that the cycle was not over- but why then was he even mentioning it after the game? All could see that sadly Spain’s dismantling at the Euro’s was 90 minutes of underlined evidence that their era had ended.


Spain suffer shock home defeat to Georgia ahead of Euro 2016

Spain Georgia

Spain were surprisingly beaten 1-0 at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez to Georgia on Tuesday evening, just days before they begin their title defence in the 2016 European Championships. La Roja lost to a side ranked 137th in the world, and were beaten in their own backyard, for their first defeat in 16 months. A mistake from Sergio Ramos allowed Jambul Jigauri time to find Tornike Okriashvili, who made no mistake with his effort. While a big setback ahead of Euro 2016, manager Vicente Del Bosque played down criticism and turned attentions to the tournament in hand.

“We shouldn’t be distressed over the outcome of today’s match. We must look forward and take on the challenge that is the European Championship. We shouldn’t set any limits. We can’t say if we get to the semi-finals we will be happy, we need to aspire to win it. This is sport and we don’t know how far we’ll go, but we need to maintain the dream to fight for a third consecutive Euro title,” said the Spain head coach.

Spain are third favourites with the bookmakers to win this summer’s European Championships, which would make it a hat-trick of consecutive triumphs, but many have their doubts about the holders given their form ahead of the tournament. Del Bosque’s men picked up just two wins from their five games against Italy, Romania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, South Korea and Georgia, and their unceremonious exit from the 2014 World Cup maybe still fresh in many players’ minds.

Spain do have a quality starting eleven, but there is a growing fear that Del Bosque’s time with La Roja could be over after this tournament. Performance levels have been a worry this year, and even during their qualifiers they have been unconvincing with a host of single goal victories. The uncertainty surrounding his first-choice goalkeeper is also an issue that frequently sees Del Bosque’s criticised.

Iker Casillas continues to start ahead of Manchester United’s David De Gea between the sticks despite the latter being regarded as one of the best in the world, at a time where the veteran’s star has faded. A lack of goals from Spain’s forwards could also see a problem arising in the tournament. Pedro is the only forward in the list to have scored more than four goals for Spain, and it’s perhaps worth noting that the European champions have scored one or less goals in seven of their 14 games from 2015 onwards.

Have far can Spain go in Euro 2016?

Spain’s Euro 2016 contingent chasing unprecedented treble

Euro 2016

The end of an era.

18 June 2014, Estadio do Maracana and a despondent group of Spanish players trudge off the pitch after being comprehensively beaten 2-0 by Chile to become the first nation eliminated from that year’s World Cup.

Such a fate befalling the wonderfully talented defending champions could not have been envisaged.  Subsequently that disappointment resulted in manager Vicente Del Bosch accepting that some subtle changes required to be made to his team in order to try to reestablish them as the powerful force who won the 2008 & 2012 European Championships, as well as the 2010 World Cup.

Three of the players contributing majorly to those successes were David Villa, Xabi Alonso & Xavi, each of whom retired from international football following Spain’s unceremonious exit from the 2014 World Cup.  Understandably, Del Bosch has experienced difficulty in identifying the most suitable replacements for the key trio but nevertheless continues to have an extremely gifted group of players from which to choose.

The quartet of Sergio Ramos, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and David Silva, who were all integral members of Spain’s 2008 & 2012 European Championship winning sides, remain regular starters for Del Bosch, with the 65-year-old manager having introduced various new players into his squad.

Those include the exciting young talents of Marc Bartra, Koke, Thiago Alcantara and Alvaro Morata, each of whom are yet to fully prove their credentials at the highest level of international football.  Ultimately they will be required to do that at Euro 2016 in order to enhance Spain’s prospects of winning an unprecedented third consecutive European Championship.

Expectations of that materializing are low due to the current Spanish side being one in transition, which is confounded by Del Bosch seemingly uncertain as to both, his best starting XI and the system of play most suitable for the personnel currently available to him.  That much was evident throughout Spain’s qualification campaign, as the team produced a string of largely uninspiring performances, which they have struggled to improve upon during recent friendly matches.

As such Del Bosch’s efforts to rebuild a coherent and fluent side remain very much a work in progress.  However the continuity of the defensive four he has selected over the past two years, has brought a large element of stability to his starting XI.  Whilst there is doubt as to whether David De Gea or Iker Casillas will play in goal, Juanfran, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba form a reliable defense.  Other personnel who will be key to enhancing Spain’s prospects of advancing to the latter stages of the tournament are Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Alvaro Morata.  Those players form the core of the current Spanish side, with the figure who fulfills the remaining place in the team being conditional upon the formation Del Bosch chooses to deploy.

Should he decide to play with two holding midfielders, Del Bosch is likely to opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation made up of the following XI.  De Gea; Juanfran, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Sergio Busquests, Koke; Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva; Alvaro Morata.  Conversely a more attack minded set-up often favored by Del Bosch is either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 formation.  In that case Thiago Alcantara would likely be selected ahead of Koke and tasked with helping Busquets and Fabregas dictate play in central midfield, with it being the responsibility of Iniesta and Silva ahead of them to support the lone front man Morata.

Ultimately Del Bosch’s chosen side will undoubtedly aspire to play in a manner which typifies the revered Spanish philosophy and style of football.  Whether that is sufficient to enable them to win a third successive European Championship for the country is however uncertain.

Aritz Aduriz’s long-awaited Spain recall proving age is just a number


Athletic Bilbao and Spain striker Aritz Aduriz has been one of the biggest success stories of the national team in some time. The 35-year-old recently made his second cap for his country, six years after his first, and prior to this season it seemed as if a chance of a return had passed him by. However, Vicente Del Bosque game the veteran striker a chance to prove his worth and he’s taken it with both hands.

Scoring in Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Italy, Del Bosque led the praise for the frontman, saying: “Aduriz performed well. He’s adapted perfectly to our game.” It’s high praise for a normally stoic manager, and Aduriz couldn’t hide his delight after impressing. “I’m very happy to participate with the national team, it is a shame we did not win. It is easy to get along with these players. They are very good and make your life easier,” he said.

Aduriz is not in the squad to make up the numbers this season, his form has demanded a call-up. For many years he’s been overlooked by the national team despite posting some impressive goal tallies in the Spanish La Liga, but this season he’s finally getting what he deserves. Since his move from Valencia in 2012, the veteran has hit double figures for league goals every season.

Aritz Aduriz’s tally of league goals since 2012
(2012/2013) Games: 36, Goals: 14, Assists: 6
(2013/2014) Games: 31, Goals: 15, Assists: 7
(2014/2015) Games: 31, Goals: 18, Assists: 4
(2015/2016) Games: 29, Goals: 17, Assists 5
With La Liga sides still having eight more games to go in the season, Aduriz could surpass his previous tally for goals for the fourth consecutive campaign.

He’s proven himself a ruthless finisher, and is doing everything in his power to ensure he’s on the plane with the Spain squad for this summer’s European Championships. Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata and Paco Alcacer are the other frontmen expected to make the squad, but Aduriz’s would understandably make more headlines given how many years he was frozen out for.

The striker has had a respectable goal record his entire career in truth, but he was competing against some of the game’s best in the likes of David Villa and Fernando Torres. While some talented frontmen are vying for selection now, Aduriz is under no illusions that the lesser pool of talent betters his chances of making the squad at the end of the season. At the age of 35, he never gave up believing, and he’s now being rewarded.

Spain doomed to repeat history as Del Bosque defends Casillas


There’s a saying, inspired by Madrid-born George Santayana, that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes, and it’s a message Vicente Del Bosque would do well to heed as Euro 2016 approaches. The coach is standing by Iker Casillas as Spain’s first-choice goalkeeper despite the excellent David De Gea waiting in the wings, suggesting he learned nothing from World Cup 2014.

La Roja went to Brazil as reigning world champions and left in short order with their tails between their legs. Del Bosque’s side were pedestrian from almost the very start of their trophy defence and their tournament was effectively over after 72 minutes against the Netherlands, when Robin van Persie scored his second goal, his team’s fifth, of what ended as a 5-1 rout. There was no going back.

Casillas was one of the villains of that painful day in Salvador, beaten first by a stunning van Persie header that he could only watch loop over him and into the net, then later failing to deal with a Wesley Sneijder free-kick before Stefan De Vrij converted it. He was then dispossessed by van Persie for the fourth goal and, though Casillas had made some outstanding saves, the mistakes counted for more.

The World Cup came after a season in which Casillas only played European and Copa del Rey football for Real Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti preferring Diego Lopez for La Liga. And Madrid did win both of those competitions, perhaps giving Del Bosque enough reason to keep faith in the leader of the generation that won two European Championships and a World Cup in four years.

But even then De Gea was breathing down Casillas’ neck, and there were calls for the Manchester United custodian to supplant the veteran. Del Bosque resisted and even after the World Cup humiliation, as midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso retired and David Villa was stood down, Casillas kept his place. He returned to the Madrid league XI the following season but it was his last at Santiago Bernabeu, a move to Porto bringing an end to an era at club level.

It still didn’t mean the end internationally, though. Del Bosque welcomed the move across Iberia and apparently took no notice that the player Madrid wanted to replace Casillas was De Gea and but for a dodgy fax machine he might well be wearing Madrid colours today. It appears only injury will give De Gea the No 1 shirt in France this summer.

Del Bosque maintained his defence of Casillas again this week after criticism of Casillas for a mistake that led to a Porto defeat, against Vitoria Guimaeres. ‘All goalkeepers make mistakes,’ Del Bosque pointed out in an interview with Cadena COPE. He’s right, of course. But having inadvertently paraphrased George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Del Bosque would do well to consider the inevitable next line: ‘Some make more mistakes than others.’