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Sergio Busquets is a key cog in an unheralded Spain team
Sergio Busquets is a key cog in an unheralded Spain team

For four years Spain were unbeatable but they look distinctly fallible going into Euro 2020.

Sandwiched between two European Championship triumphs in 2008 and 2012 was a World Cup victory in 2010, as the Iberian nation emerged to become the world's dominant side.

But since winning Euro 2012, Spain have not progressed beyond the round of 16 at an international tournament and they are not viewed as one of the favourites this summer.

Luis Enrique’s decision not to name any Real Madrid players in his squad has piled the pressure on the former Barcelona manager’s shoulders.

Background

Prior to 2008, Spain had always flattered to deceive on the biggest stage, with their tournament performances often following a similar pattern.

La Roja would be faultless in the group stage, just as they were at the World Cup in 2002 and 2006, before going out with a whimper in the knockout phase.

In 2002, they needed spot-kicks to get past the Republic of Ireland before South Korea eliminated them on penalties. Four years later, France eased to a 3-1 win in the round of 16.

The same thing happened at Euro 2000, with Les Bleus knocking them out in the first knockout round.

They will fancy their chances of progressing from Group E and avoiding the fate they faced at Euro 2004 when they failed to do so. 

Sweden, Poland and Slovakia should be easily overcome by Enrique’s men, especially with all three of their fixtures taking place in Seville.

How they qualified

On the surface, Spain comfortably topped Group F, finishing five points clear of Sweden and scoring 31 goals. They were equally proficient at the back, conceding just five times in 10 matches.

However, their qualification was not quite as straightforward as it may initially appear.

La Roja hit 12 goals in the final two qualifiers, bulking up their tally with convincing wins over Malta and Romania.

Prior to that, Spain had been held to draws by Sweden and Norway, while a number of their wins were far from convincing.

The line-up

Enrique made the bold decision to leave Sergio Ramos out of his squad — though the inclusion of Aymeric Laporte goes some way towards mitigating for the Real Madrid star’s absence.

The centre-back switched allegiances having been regularly overlooked by France and should go straight into the starting line-up at Euro 2020.

On paper, this is not one of Spain’s strongest squads in recent history. 

But they do still possess a number of talented players and have the potential to be one of the dark horses of the tournament.

Predicted line-up: De Gea; Azpilicueta, Torres, Laporte, Alba; Thiago, Busquets, Fabian; Torres, Moreno, Oyarzabal.

Star man: Thiago

Thiago could be the man who makes everything tick for Spain at Euro 2020
Thiago could be the man who makes everything tick for Spain at Euro 2020

Midfield maestro Thiago really found his form towards the end of 2020-21, helping Liverpool win eight of their last 10 matches to clinch a Champions League spot.

He has yet to have a big impact at a tournament for Spain and will be relishing the opportunity to put his stamp on Euro 2020.

With the team currently in transition, Thiago’s experience — combined with his ability on the ball — will make him central to La Roja’s chances of success.

Enrique’s squad is loaded with attacking talent and the challenge for Spain will be to ensure the ball reaches the likes of Ferran Torres, Mikel Oyarzabal, Adama Traore and Dani Olmo.

Thiago’s inclusion goes some way towards ensuring that will happen.

Up-and-comer: Pedri

Barcelona have spent hundreds of millions over recent years, bringing in the likes of Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Miralem Pjanic.

Yet one of their standout players in 2020-21 was 18-year-old Pedri.

Signed from Las Palmas for £4million, the versatile midfielder played his way into Ronald Koeman’s best XI. 

Calm, composed and incisive, he struck up quite the understanding with Lionel Messi and looked at home on the biggest of big stages.

Pedri is in the top 20% of players for non-penalty goals and expected goals, expected assists, shot creating actions, progressive carries and pressures, when compared with midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues and continental competitions.

He might not begin the tournament in Enrique’s starting line-up but there will no doubt be opportunities for him to impress.

If he takes them, just as he did at the Camp Nou, Pedri could return to Spain as the poster boy for the next crop of stars.

Pedri is the hottest prospect in Luis Enrique's Spain squad this summer
Pedri is the hottest prospect in Luis Enrique's Spain squad this summer

The boss: Luis Enrique

This is Enrique’s first tournament as Spain boss and he will be looking to recover from a difficult start to life with the national team.

The jury is still out on his performance to date, following a number of disappointing results and displays — not least scraping past minnows Georgia 2-1 thanks to a last-minute winner.

He has, perhaps unnecessarily, heaped more pressure on himself by opting to leave the likes of Ramos out. 

If Spain struggle with so many talented players left at home, it could be Enrique’s only tournament in charge of the national team.

All information correct as of midday, June 4, 2021

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SpainEuropean Championship

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