While the selection decision hogging the media spotlight is whether Fernando Torres ought to go to the Euros, the biggest puzzle for coach Vicente del Bosque is which of Spain’s talented generation of midfielders to fit into his 23-man squad to be announced on Sunday after today’s friendly against Serbia (6pm on TVE1).
Everyone has an opinion on Torres, the hero of Vienna in 2008 who, after a disastrous move from Liverpool to Chelsea, is now even lower on confidence than he was two years ago at the World Cup. In South Africa, David Villa confirmed he is La Roja’s number-one marksman, with “El Nino” cutting a disconsolate figure after failing to influence the competition as he had at the European Championship four years ago, Spain’s breakthrough moment.
Also, Del Bosque’s arrival has led to a change in the shape of the standard 11, to include three central midfielders (invariably Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Xabi Alonso, when all three are fit), so there is only room for one forward and just two of the crop of offensive midfielders and wingers that has sprouted among La Liga’s ranks, with the scorer of the World-Cup-winning goal, Andrés Iniesta, a dead cert for one of those places.
Villa is out injured, leaving a straight choice between Torres, who says he is now through his “mental block” of this season, and Fernando Llorente for first-choice front-line leader, with Roberto Soldado, Álvaro Negredo and Adrián competing for a possible third-striker berth.
The conservative trend of taking three goalkeepers is presumably in case one gets injured and the sub is sent off
The central midfield is a known quantity with Javi Martinez and Cesc Fàbregas as back-up, assuming they both come through Friday night’s King’s Cup final unharmed, along with other Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao players. One of Martinez’s qualities is that he can also perform well in the center of defense, which is where Marcelo Bielsa has had him playing much of the season for the Basque team.
That fact, combined with a relative shortage of top-level defenders, could allow Del Bosque to keep the number of back liners down to six to cover four places, especially if talisman Carles Puyol is definitively ruled out owing to his knee problem. Álvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba would probably be the first men down on the defense list, with perhaps two out of Raúl Albiol, Ignacio Monreal and Andoni Iraola to be chosen as cover.
Assuming the Spain coach does not buck the conservative trend of taking three goalkeepers (in case one gets injured and his substitute is sent off, presumably), that would leave a potential six spots for attacking midfielders and quasi-forwards. Iniesta is in, barring injury. Santi Cazorla has had a marvelous season with Málaga and is arguably the best free-kick taker, which would leave just four places to add some pace and flair to a squad packed with neat passers. Here is where Del Bosque has some hard choices to make. David Silva has never appeared to be the coach’s first name on the team sheet, but his excellent showing for Manchester City in the Premier League must have booked his place as a squad member. Barcelona’s Pedro, meanwhile, has not been the consistent performer of previous campaigns, failing to hold down a regular place in Pep Guardiola’s team, so he may be a doubt. For a generally underwhelming Sevilla, right winger Jesús Navas has been a constant source of menace and Del Bosque surprised many by giving him a major role in South Africa, while Chelsea’s Juan Mata is also a safe bet. Will there be one place spare for one of the youthful outsiders in Athletic wunderkind Iker Muniain or Málaga duo Isco and Beñat? “I’d take them all if I could,” Del Bosque said of his players on Friday. Sorry Vicente; it’s last orders.