CaughtOffside correspondent Jason Mitchell takes a closer look at the participants at next month’s Euro 2012 finals.
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As the current World and European champions, Spain head into Euro 2012 as clear favourites to win the tournament. It therefore comes as little surprise that coach Vicente del Bosque has opted to fill the bulk of his squad with players who featured in Spain’s World Cup winning squad of 2010. In fact, out of the 23-man squad named for Euro 2012, 19 of the players made the trip to South Africa two years ago. Meanwhile, 12 players return from the successful Euro 2008 victory, including Chelsea’s Fernando Torres, who scored the winner in the final of that tournament.
Perhaps the most obvious name missing from that 2010 World Cup-winning squad is David Villa, Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer. Villa, who was the top scorer at Euro 2008 and joint top scorer at the 2010 World Cup, broke his tibia playing for Barcelona in a Club World Cup match against Qatari side Al-Sadd way back in December 2011. Although there were initial hopes that he would be able to play a role this summer, ultimately he failed to recover in time.
“Villa is irreplaceable,” admitted del Bosque on Sunday. “But we needed to find solutions.”
While Villa’s place in the squad has been given to Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo, the primary solution to the Villa void is likely to come in the shape of Fernando Llorente. The 6ft 5in striker heads into the tournament off the back of his best ever season; a season in which he contributed 29 goals in all competitions and helped guide Athletic Bilbao to the finals of both the UEFA Europa League and the Copa del Rey. Llorente also contributed 3 goals for Spain during the qualification stage of the European Championships and has been tipped by many as a potential candidate for the Golden Boot.
Another notable absentee from the squad which conquered in South Africa is veteran centre-back Carles Puyol, who remains just one appearance shy of his 100th cap for Spain. Like with David Villa, Puyol’s omission from the team was forced upon Vicente del Bosque through injury. Puyol damaged his knee in Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Espanyol in May and subsequently underwent surgery. Once again, del Bosque was quick to admit that the injury is a major loss.
“It’s a serious setback,” del Bosque told AS. “He’s a considerable loss not only for what he gives on the pitch, but for what he contributes to the team [off the field].”
Full-backs Juanfran Torres and Jordi Alba have been included in the squad and will be making their first trip to a major international tournament. Barcelona’s reliable midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta are all likely starters. Iniesta, of course, scored the winning goal in the World Cup final two summers ago. Meanwhile, forward Pedro Rodriguez’s late-season form saved him from possible exclusion.
Manchester City’s David Silva is also included in the squad, fresh off the back of a Premier League-winning season.
Spanish champions Real Madrid are represented by goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who will once again captain the side, as well as defenders Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa and Raul Albiol and midfielder Xabi Alonso.
Out of the travelling party, the main fitness worry centres on midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Vicente del Bosque opted to take a risk on including Cesc ahead of his club team mate, Thiago Alcantara.
“In Cesc’s case, the doctors are optimistic. We had [Thiago] in mind, but we can’t bring all of Barcelona’s players,” del Bosque explained.
Although injuries to David Villa, Carles Puyol and Cesc Fabregas hardly represent ideal preparation for Spain, the squad still contains more than enough quality to challenge for back-to-back European Championship wins. The reigning champions are in Group C, and will get their campaign underway against Italy on June 10 before facing Ireland and Croatia.
Possible First-Choice Starting XI
Alvaro Arbeloa — Sergio Ramos — Gerard Pique — Jordi Alba
Xabi Alonso — Sergio Busquets
David Silva — Fernando Llorente — Andres Iniesta
Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina, Victor Valdes; Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa, Raul Albiol, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Juanfran Torres; Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Javi Martinez, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata, Santi Carzorla; David Silva, Fernando Llorente, Fernando Torres, Jesus Navas, Pedro Rodriguez, Alvaro Negredo