World Cup: Last chance at glory for Spain’s greats

For Spain, the World Cup will be the last chance for many of its members to win a major international honour.

During the recent round of international friendlies, one of the most highly-anticipated matches was the clash between Germany and Spain at Esprit Arena, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Thomas Müller and Rodrigo found the back of the net for Die Mannschaft and La Furia Roja respectively.

This was an encouraging result for Spain, because unlike Germany, they are not considered to be among the favourites to win the 2018 World Cup. What is notable, however, is the average age of Spain’s starting 11 against Germany: over 28 years old. Four of their starters – aging legends Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta, and David Silva – are over 30.

Hence, for Spain, the World Cup will be the last chance for many of its members to win a major international honour.

At the moment, Spain are a long way off from the legendary team that won two European Championships and a World Cup between 2008 and 2012. In their last two international tournaments, they were knocked out in the first round of the 2014 World Cup and in the last 16 of the 2016 European Championships. It must be noted that in 2016, the European Championships expanded to 24 teams, so in any other year, Spain would have registered consecutive first-round exits after winning three straight tournaments.

But there appears to be a glimmer of hope, both for now and the future.

Players such as Lucas Vázquez, Dani Parejo, and Iago Aspas have emerged as solid contributors, despite only blossoming into international-level players at relatively later stages of their respective careers. They will serve as capable backups to Spain’s core of the likes of the four legends mentioned earlier, as well as players such as Diego Costa, Jordi Alba, and David de Gea.

These players’ recent improvements will strengthen the Spanish team, and this is important because bench depth is vital for any team contending for the World Cup.

However, even if, as is expected, Spain do not win the World Cup, they nevertheless have an exciting young core to build around for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Spain finished as runners-up in the 2017 European Under-21 Championship, and some of the players in that squad, such as Saúl Ñiguez, Héctor Bellerín, Iñaki Williams, Álvaro Odriozola, and Marco Asensio, look as if they may go on to have excellent careers, both for club and country.

However, there is one key question that has not been answered yet: will any of these promising youngsters go beyond being a solid, contributing player and reach superstar, or even all-time great status?

Unfortunately for Spain, even though these players appear to have productive careers ahead of them, it does not currently appear that any of them have a ceiling that high.

Historically speaking, a team needs at least one, and usually more, all-time superstars to win the World Cup. If none of Spain’s future core goes on to become a bona fide superstar, it will be next to impossible for them to win the 2022 World Cup.

As for the current core, as many know, it is full of some of the greatest players of the last decade, such as Iniesta, Ramos, Cesc Fàbregas, and Sergio Busquets, just to name a few.

However, all these players who played vital roles in Spain’s three tournament victories are now approaching the end of their fantastic careers. Hence, the coming World Cup will be their chance to elevate themselves to football immortality, in what will be the last international tournament for most, if not all of them.

The team will certainly want to send off these greats who have given so much to the national team in the best possible way – with a World Cup victory in July.

Having said all of this, how do I rate Spain’s chances in Russia this summer?

While I do think it is unlikely that they will go on to lift the World Cup, I cannot completely write them off. This Spanish team has achieved too much to be completely ignored.

Though they may not have the depth of Germany, the young talent of France, or the cohesion of Brazil, because of the history their players have, Spain can never be overlooked in major tournaments.

Eu Weijun works at FMT.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.