WORLD SOCCER

Does Spain have the boys for Brazil?

Coach Del Bosque banks on lure of Maracaná to motivate players on road to 2014

Spain players Llorente, Busquets and Torres (l to r) in Kiev after the final together with various squad-connected children.
Spain players Llorente, Busquets and Torres (l to r) in Kiev after the final together with various squad-connected children.GETTY

"First we have to qualify. It seems that we are already there or that it will be easy to do so," said Vicente del Bosque when asked about the Brazil World Cup in 2014. On September 11, Spain begins its qualification campaign in Georgia and Del Bosque is counting on the almost mystical allure of a World Cup in Brazil to channel the motivation of a group of players that has just completed an unprecedented triple crown of international tournament victories. "If there is a country that motivates the players, it is Brazil, the cradle of football, a sanctuary to play in and defend our style and our title," said the Spain coach.

Under comparison with the legendary 1970 Brazil team of the five 10s - Pelé, Jairzinho, Gérson, Tostão and Rivelino - the challenge of maintaining Spain's hegemony in a final in the Maracaná has become a spur for the world champions.

Xavi, who will be 34 in Brazil, has said he wants to end his illustrious career with La Roja in 2014. "I have to speak with the boss and see how I am, but if I feel good of course I would like to be at the World Cup," the Barcelona midfielder said this week.

Xavi is the chief orchestrator of Spain's brand of tiki-taka soccer and there is more concern over the foreseeable end of his career than any other player. His father, Joaquim Hernández, has said Spain will have to use Xavi sparingly but Del Bosque is unlikely to take age into account when selecting his squads. "We can't have one team for friendlies and one for official matches," he said. The squad for Spain's next match, against Puerto Rico on August 15, will consist of "the best players, as has been the case until now."

Iker Casillas will be 33 in Brazil, Xabi Alonso 32 and Álvaro Arbeloa 31. Alongside Xavi, these will be the only players over 30 while Sergio Ramos (28), Gerard Piqué (27), Jordi Alba (25), Cesc Fàbregas (27) and David Silva (28) will arrive at the World Cup with ages that represent the greatest symbiosis between footballing maturity and physical performance. Carles Puyol and David Villa, both absent through injury at the Euros, will be 36 and 33 respectively. Puyol, who is one cap short of a century, almost retired after the 2010 World Cup and he will not hesitate to step aside if he feels he can no longer contribute. However, Barcelona is in talks with the defender to extend his contract past its current 2013 expiry. Villa is still a key player for Spain, as evidenced by Del Bosque's oft-strikerless formation in Poland and Ukraine, and his honesty is beyond doubt: Villa voluntarily withdrew from the Euro 2012 squad when he felt he would not recover from a fractured tibia in time.

"We will look at which positions we need to renew on a day-by-day basis," Del Bosque said. "To counter possible declines we have to keep an eye on players coming through. Jordi Alba is a good example of this. We have to bring through players who can help when it is necessary to lend a hand. We have a strong list. We have Beñat [Etxebarria], for example, and [Iker] Muniain, or any of the players we took to [the pre-tournament training camp in] Austria."

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