Published On: Fri, Feb 7th, 2020

Can Spain bounce back to be a dominant European Championship force again?

Not since 2012 have Spain won a major trophy and that 4-0 hammering of Italy in Kiev to win back-to-back European Championships seems a distant memory.

It’s been disappointment after disappointment since then: failing to advance to the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup, early exits in the round of 16 at both Euro 2016 and the subsequent World Cup in Russia and most recently, failing to qualify for the Nations League Finals.

While the upcoming multi-nation-hosted tournament could provide a chance for redemption, the odds on UEFA Euro 2020 winner are not favourable for Spain – they’re joint-fourth favourites with Germany at an early price of 8/1. The host nation have been drawn in Group E alongside Sweden, Poland and the winner of Path B’s play-off winner to be decided on March 31st.

While Spain went unbeaten during qualification for Euro 2020, winning eight of their 10 games and conceding just five goals, head coach Luis Enrique has a number of issues to consider ahead of the finals in June.

Goalkeeping crisis

Since Iker Casillas retired from international football in 2014, Spain have been unable to find an adequate replacement between the sticks. David de Gea has often come under fire – for both club and country – and despite wearing the gloves during Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, he only featured in three Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Chelsea goalkeeper KepaArrizabalaga launched a challenge on the number 1 spot last year and went on to play six of the Euro 2020 qualifiers, but he too, has been criticised. His dip in form at club level has given Blues boss Frank Lampard little option but to replace him with Willy Caballero.

Enrique could call upon Roma keeper Pau López, who earned his second cap for Las Rojas in the 7-0 demolition of Malta last November, under the coaching of Robert Moreno.

While Enrique has called him up to his squad, the Catalonian shot-stopper has made his far share of mistakes this season, domestically. He was at fault for the recent draw in the Rome derby against Lazio, before conceding four goals the following week at Sassuolo.

While there are other goalkeepers that could be called upon, none of them have made senior appearances for Spain before. Names such as Unai Simón (Athletic Bilbao) and Aitor Fernández (Levante) have been thrown about of late, but whoever the permanent number 1 is, they have large boots to fill – and the Spanish faithful can be fickle.

The end of the old guard

Of Spain’s current squad, only one player featured in both their 2008 and 2012 European Championship successes: captain Sergio Ramos. Gone are the midfield dominance of dynamos Andrés Iniesta and Xavi, as well as the aforementioned solidity between the sticks, Casillas.

The last couple of years have represented the end of an era, with so many high-profile and successful players hanging up their boots. Spain’s centurions, Ramos (170 caps) and Sergio Busquets (116 caps) are amongst the oldest members of the squad and their time playing international football must surely soon come to an end.

Not only does this new dawn give Spain’s young blood a chance to shine, but it represents a dramatic change in shift for club football too.

Notoriously, the national side has been predominantly represented by La Liga’s ‘Big Two’: Barcelona and Real Madrid. During their most recent success at Euro 2012, 12 players of the 23-man squad plied their trade for either of the Spanish giants; while this decreased to seven during Euro 2016.

Of the current squad, there are only three Real or Barça players, with Villarreal the most represented team with five squad members. The national squad has never been so diverse, with 17 different clubs from six countries representing – but this too could provide a logistical headache for Enrique.

It’s fair to say that the Golden Generation of Spain is no more and it’s now down to Enrique’s young stars to bring some pride and belief back to what is a successful footballing nation.

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