Spain coach Vicente del Bosque yesterday announced his provisional 30-man squad for the forthcoming World Cup. In case you missed it, here it is:
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas, David de Gea, Diego Lopez, Pepe Reina, Victor Valdes
Defenders: Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa, Cesar Azpilicueta, Joan Capdevila, Carlos Marchena, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos
Midfielders: Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Santi Cazorla, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Javi Martinez, Juan Mata, Jesus Navas, Marcos Senna, David Silva, Xavi
Forwards: Daniel Guiza, Fernando Llorente, Alvaro Negredo, Pedro Rodriguez, Fernando Torres, David Villa
In the name of fantasy football, I have italicised the names of those I would jettison from the finalised twenty-three. The seven that fail to make the cut will be announced officially in the next week and will certainly differ from the opinion stated above. However, with seven Barcelona players and five from Real Madrid looking set to remain a part of La Selección for the trip to South Africa, the dominance of Spain’s top two is highlighted once again.
As if the current league table and impending battle for the title doesn’t already highlight, underline and capitalise the issue with a gigantic fluorescent marker pen. This season, La Liga has been more Scottish than Scotland in terms of Barca and Real’s Old Firm-style duopoly. After Sunday’s finale, Real look set to end up with 98 points. They have been fantastic, yet they are almost certain to end the season with nothing.
Perhaps the biggest reason for that anomaly is a small figure, absent from the names listed above but set to play a huge role for his own country. As if that was not enough, the biggest reason that they will get so close is a more impressive physical figure who will likewise do battle for the enemy in the summer. But enough about them.
Del Bosque will instead be depending on a coalition of ever-so-slightly lesser lights to propel Spain to glory. Relying on men from Barca and Real to put their differences aside and put their country first. It worked rather well at the European Championships after all.
Bojan Krkic, so effective as a stand-in for Zlatan Ibrahimovic for theBlaugrana in recent weeks, misses out on the provisional squad. Real Madrid star of past and present Raul is also omitted along with their future gem Sergio Canales, who will arrive from Racing Santander over the summer. The World Cup cycle appears to have arrived one year too early for Canales but his time will surely come.
In recent months, Barca have managed to add two star performers to the initial list, both of whom have enjoyed fine individual seasons to establish themselves alongside more vaunted colleagues. Victor Valdes and Pedro Rodriguez both nervously wait to discover whether they will survive the cull.
If they do not, it will probably leave the two famous names with five players apiece on the flight south. Pique, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol and Busquets must surely be shoo-ins. All five have been tremendous for Barca for at least the last two years of unprecedented success. Selección mainstays Casillas and Ramos are Real’s equivalents despite sparse patches of poor form.
It is the remaining three names that deserve most praise. Rafa Benitez may not have enjoyed the best of seasons but three of his former players have in their new surroundings of the Bernabeu. Arbeloa, Albiol and Alonso have all contributed greatly to Real’s fine season. The trio will have more worries about being sidelined in a potential knee-jerk reaction to another second place finish for Los Blancos than their safe-as-houses seats on the plane to South Africa.
Will we see the same superb football that characterised Spain’s stroll to European Championship victory in 2008? Regardless of where the trophy ends up in mid-July, one can only hope.