Spain is in an interesting spot heading into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The Spanish national team went on a historic run from 2008 to 2012, winning all three possible major trophies, two EUROs, and one World Cup. Many players who led Spain’s golden generation have aged out of the side or have retired, leaving the national team in a transitional phase. However, after just a few years of the team lacking a direction, they are ranked sixth by FIFA in June 2022. They have been drawn into a challenging Group E, with Germany, Japan, and Costa Rica, and all the teams will push Spain. Still, Spain is seen as a possible World Cup winner, but here are five reasons they will at least make it out of the group stage.
World-Class Youth Movement
One of the biggest reasons Spain was so dominant over 10 years ago was the youth movement born through the big Spanish clubs in La Liga. Many players played with or against one another in La Liga, forming a special connection that allowed them to play Spain’s quick passing game, a possession dominant attack that took over the world for six years. Spain is going through a similar thing. Players such as Pedri, Pablo Gavira, and Ansu Fati, who are all younger than 20, all play for Barcelona and have been impressed while with the national team. The rest of the roster is filled with players who are just reaching their prime at 25 and have spent the last few years growing for their club teams, many in Spain. How this team has been built feels like deja vu to 2008 when Spain was making itself known as the best Spanish team ever.
Some of the Old
With rosters yet to be announced and manager Luis Enrique leaving many of the older, less productive players off the roster to make way for the young. It is hard to speculate what players from the old Spain team will play in the 2022 World Cup. In the three major international tournaments from 2014 to 2018, Spain only made it as far as the Round of 16, which was seen as a failure, with blame falling on the age of the players. However, players such as Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, and Sergio Ramos all started in the 2010 World Cup Final and have still seen some playing time for the national team. They are all well past their prime but have been the heartbeat of Spain’s national soccer team for a long time. Busquets is now the team captain, along with Jordi Alba, who became a regular starter for the 2012 EURO win. Even though the team is filled with young talent, some of the players from the old generation are still around to lend a helping hand.
In the 2014 World Cup, Spain did not make it out of the group stages, and in the 2016 EUROs and 2018 World Cup, they only made it as far as the Round of 16. The team struggled to find an identity with key players such as Xavi and Andrés Iniesta failing to perform as usual. The team did not have any replacements until recently, which was put on display in the 2020 EUROs. Spain came in third, their best performance in a major national tournament since winning the 2012 EUROs. A big part of the team’s success was based around an 18-year-old Pedri, who played nearly every minute and won the tournament’s best young player award. Even though Spain hasn’t spent much time out of the top 10 in FIFA’s rankings since 2014, this year does feel different. In World Cup qualifications, they dominated with 6W-1D-1L, scoring 15 goals and allowing just five.
Luis Enrique is Making Changes
While managing Barcelona, Luis Enrique became one of the best, winning a treble in 2014-15, capturing the league, domestic cup, and the Champions League. In 2017, he left the club, taking over as Spain’s manager in 2018, with a small break in 2019. Since 2016, the Spanish national team manager has been a revolving door, with no manager on the sidelines for over 20 games. Enrique has been able to stabilize the team and bring them back to the top in international soccer. Barcelona under Enrique followed many of the tactics set by the World Cup winning Spanish teams, which has allowed him to bring that style of play back. However, he has been shifting from the older players, which has been seen as a power grab by the Spanish media and caused issues before the 2020 EUROs. Since performing well in the competition, many have fallen in line with Enrique’s vision for the team.
Do Not Underestimate Group E
Spain is one of the most challenging groups in the World Cup. Germany won the 2014 World Cup, but similar to Spain, the years after winning have sent the team into a rebuild. Germany is on their way back to a top 10 side, but Spain should still have the upper hand. Japan is one of the best teams in Asia and has a great attacking front, but Spain has also been one of the better defenses in the world and may be able to contain them. Even though Costa Rica is the lowest-ranked team in the group at 34, the team has a history of upsetting top-heavy groups. Spain will likely not underestimate the teams in the group because each team is good. However, that does pose an issue if the team starts looking ahead, as they have their sights on making a deep run.