Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

Euro 2020 qualifiers: new-look Spain remain a team in transition

The former world champions have lost much of their talent, and the way back to the top may take some time

David Villa, the all-time leading goalscorer for the Spanish national side, announced on Thursday he will be hanging up his boots at the end of the season.

After a successful spell in New York in a career which has taken in five continents, the 37-year-old is playing in Japan for Vissel Kobe alongside his former Barcelona and Spain teammate Andres Iniesta, plus Lucas Podolski and Thomas Vermaelen.

Villa scored 59 goals in 98 Spain games, becoming a world and European champion along the way, but has not appeared since 2017. Iniesta’s last Spain outing was in 2018, the same for Gerard Pique.

Spain conclude their 2020 Euro qualifiers with home games against Malta in Cadiz on Friday and Romania in Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano on Monday. It is inconceivable they will not go through as group winners, but they are a side in transition.

“It’s a new generation,” says former striker Alvaro Negredo, now at Al-Nasr Dubai.

“The players of my generation were together for a long time. There was continuity, stability and we won everything. There are talented young players now but you can’t just become world champions. It takes time to build.”

Their status as the world’s No 1 ranked team, when they went a joint-record 35 matches unbeaten, is long gone. Spain have plenty of top players but they have to become a top team. They are eighth in the rankings and drew their last two competitive games against Sweden and Norway.

Circumstances have not been ideal. Manager Luis Enrique stepped aside after the tragic death of his daughter. Robert Moreno, a Catalan from Barcelona, has replaced him. The 42-year-old was his assistant, following Enrique to Rome, Vigo, Barcelona and the Spain job. Moreno has won five and drawn two of his seven games in charge.

One national newspaper printed an ideal Spain XI for Euro 2020. The goalkeeper was Kepa rather than David de Gea, who has performed inconsistently for his country. Veteran Jesus Navas or Dani Carvajal were right backs, Sergio Ramos (all time leading appearance holder with 168 games), Raul Albiol, Alba, Dani Ceballos made up the other defenders, with Sergio Busquets, Fabian Ruiz, Saul Niguez in the middle of a 4-3-3. Rodrigo, Paco Alcacer and Alvaro Morata were the front line.

However, there are several other possibilities, meaning the future is uncertain.

Veteran Santi Cazorla has worked his way back into contention, as has right wing Pablo Sarabia and central defender Inigo Martinez. Manchester City’s Rodri and Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal have featured recently. Wolves’ Adama Traore has been called up for the first time to replace the injured Rodrigo Moreno.

The building may take some time.

Updated: November 15, 2019 11:46 AM

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