Following on from their World Cup and Euro 2008 triumphs it’s something of a no-brainer that Spain arrive in Poland as the team to beat and 5/2 favourites this summer.
However, an odd lack of firepower for a squad so brimming with talent should make Euro 2012 the greatest challenge to date for the all-conquering Iberians.
David Villa and Fernando Torres have suffered contrasting fates since they combined so well to earn Spain their first trophy in over 40 years in 2008 but the broken leg suffered by the former in December and the latter’s complete crisis of confidence since his £50million transfer to Chelsea last January has left Spain without an obvious choice to lead the line in front of their undeniably brilliant midfield.
The loss of the nation’s greatest ever goalscorer would be a huge blow to any side, even the world champions, and despite a drop in form at club level prior to Villa’s devastating injury at the World Club Finals in Tokyo, the Barcelona striker was the top scorer yet again and played every game of a qualifying campaign which saw Spain chalk up a perfect record of eight wins from eight.
Torres, of course, didn’t even start in the World Cup Final win over Holland two years ago and his record of two goals in three qualifying appearances – with both coming against lowly Liechtenstein – suggests Vicente Del Bosque has been searching for alternatives since long before the striker swapped Merseyside for London, and he may well have found them.
Juan Mata, Alvaro Negrado, Fernando Llorente and David Silva were used sparingly in South Africa but scored 11 goals between them in qualifiers, add in-form Valencia striker Roberto Soldado to the mix and it’s clear that there are attacking options available which would be the envy of almost every other team in the tournament, but Silva and Mata are primarily providers who chip in with goals while the others remain unproven on the biggest of stages, for the moment at least.
Spain won the World Cup on the back of four straight 1-0 wins even with the ideal selection of firepower available to them throughout, so questions must be asked of their potency if their frontline is deprived of its greatest threat.
Iker Casillas is arguably Europe’s best goalkeeper – anybody good enough to keep Pepe Reina sidelined must be of the highest calibre – and the expected back four of Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa in front of him can be suspect at times but it’s so difficult to put them under any sustained pressure when their midfield are so stingy with the ball that it generally proves irrelevant. In short, any side who bests them should win the competition.