The 2022 FIFA World Cup is merely days away, and expectations are palpable in a number of countries. But in Spain, expectations have never been lower. Oddschecker, which compares odds and provides free offers on the World Cup, has made South American rivals Brazil and Argentina the two favorites for glory. Reigning champions France, who defeated Croatia 4-2 in the Moscow showpiece four years ago, and Euro 2020 finalists England aren’t too far behind in the betting odds. Then come the Spanish, currently fifth favorites.
If you speak to any fan in Madrid or Barcelona, they will tell you that they don’t expect much from Las Rojas this winter, despite being managed by Catalonian legend Luis Enrique. Spain are currently a nation in transition. The man in charge of Barcelona when they won the treble back in 2015 has once again left out the 36-year-old Sergio Ramos; it looks like the former captain won’t be adding to his mighty 180 caps.
Manchester United’s David De Gea is another notable omission. He lost his number one jersey in the build-up to last summer's European Championships, with Enrique opting for Athletic Bilbao’s Unai Simon. Two Premier League goalkeepers will support Simon, with Brentford’s David Raya and Brighton’s Robert Sanchez named as the deputies in the squad.
The days of dominance are long gone
Just over a decade ago, Spain were cementing their legacy as perhaps the finest international team ever assembled. They dismantled Italy in the final of Euro 2012, with goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata securing a 4-0 victory in Kyiv and sealing their third consecutive major international trophy.
Four years prior, the late Luis Aragonés revolutionized Spanish football. He realized that there was a wealth of technical footballers coming through, such as Barcelona duo Xavi and Andres Iniesta, as well as Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas. Add to that the experience of Carles Puyol in center-back, as well as two of the world's greatest strikers in their ranks - Fernando Torres and David Villa - and success was only a matter of time.
Out was the classic football of the time, 4-4-2 fast-paced wing play, and in came the tiki-taka that Pep Guardiola went on to master.
The results were incredible. Spain swept all before them at Euro 2008. Fernando Torres scored the winner against Germany in the final, securing the country's first major championship in 44 years. Aragonés retired following that victory, but Vicente Del Bosque picked up where the Atletico Madrid legend left off. He led his nation to a maiden World Cup victory in 2010 in South Africa, before successfully defending the European Championship two years down the line in Poland and Ukraine.
A young squad that has impressed
Since then, however, Spain’s golden generation have disappointed. Their World Cup defense in 2014 ended after just two group matches, and four years ago they were knocked out on penalties in the second round by hosts Russia. Since that painful afternoon in Moscow, there was an inquest into Spanish football and it was determined that fresh blood was needed. And that's exactly what Luis Enrique has found.
Spain have been drawn alongside Germany, Costa Rica and Japan. Die Mannschaft will provide a stern test, as will a potential second-round tie with either Belgium or Croatia. It's clear that the upcoming tournament won’t be easy for Spain, but if they can replicate their form from last summer, don’t be surprised to see them reach the latter stages once again.