x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The global dominance of Spain

As the world and European champions enjoy, and financially prosper from, international friendlies, they are still motivated for the big wins, writes Andy Mitten .

Spain's Santiago Cazorla, centre, played in the friendly against Saudi Arabia on Friday.
Spain's Santiago Cazorla, centre, played in the friendly against Saudi Arabia on Friday.

Some international footballers see their colleagues six times per year when they meet to play. In Spain, it is far more frequent.

Spain's stars mainly play for Barcelona and Real Madrid, two teams which have met a dozen times in the last 18 months.

For their country, the players spent six weeks together during their successful Euro 2012 campaign and they are becoming accustomed to the lucrative transatlantic friendlies for which they all receive a healthy cut.

The Spanish Football Federation likes to cash in on their status as world and European champions - with recent friendlies in places such as Venezuela, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.

Are they killing the golden goose by playing too many long-haul games? With such an embarrassment of talent, there is no evidence to suggest so.

Spain play to their many domestic and international suitors and they won 5-0 against Saudi Arabia on Friday night in a small Galician town with a third division team whose stadium holds just 12,000.

They then flew to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi for their opening World Cup 2014 qualifier, which takes place tonight. It is the start of a road which they hope will culminate in them being the first country to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.

Georgia, Finland and Belarus will offer only a limited threat to a side who have not lost a game at home since 2005, but France, the group's fifth team, are different.

Before 2002, winning the World Cup earned the right to defend your trophy in the finals four years later. Now only the hosts - in 2014 that is the five-time champions Brazil - qualify automatically and Spain have to progress from a group with a major potential stumbling point. France were the last team to knock Spain out of a tournament - the 2006 World Cup.

Fifa's ranking system is often criticised and as England are currently third you can see why. England have won just one major tournament in their history and have not reached a semi-final in a major tournament for 16 years.

For the 2014 draw, France, World Cup winners in 1998 and finalists in 2006, were ranked below Greece, Norway and Croatia. Their coach Laurent Blanc was angered when they were drawn with Spain as only one team is guaranteed to go to Brazil. Spain play France - who won their opener in Finland - next month in Madrid.

Europe will send 13 of the 32 finalists to Brazil, more than any other continent - and Spain are expected to be the strongest team.

The match in Georgia will be the first competitive game since the 4-0 win over Italy in the final of Euro 2012, the start of an international season they hope will finish with victory in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, the precursor to the big tournament.

Vicente del Bosque, the Spain coach, said yesterday that the motivation of taking on Brazil in 2014 will be a driving force for his team.

"It's a great incentive to be there," Del Bosque told a news conference.

"I have complete confidence in all the players, the new and the old. For the veterans around the 30 mark I am sure it will be a motivation to make the finals."

Barcelona playmaker Xavi, 32, added: "This generation has never played against Brazil and this is a big motivation."

All empires fade, yet Spain's footballing one still reigns supreme. They have already made the necessary tweaks and boast a squad big enough to absorb even serious injuries. Spain scored four goals in the Euro final in Kiev despite not starting with a recognised striker. Unlike the Barcelona team from which many of their players come, Spain are not dependent on a leading light like Lionel Messi. Instead, their imperious midfield smothers opponents into submission.

Spain easily coped without the injured striker David Villa, their prolific record scorer. They took just three recognised strikers in the 23-man Euro 2012 squad: Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente, the Bilbao forward, who did not play a single minute.

Spain can do this because of their glut of midfield talent. This will continue to Brazil. Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, David Silva, Sergio Busquets, Santo Cazorla, Juan Mata and Pedro will all be playing. Trying to get some minutes among those exalted names will be Javi Martinez, Isco and Thiago Alcantara.

A woeful Olympic Games has tempered the enthusiasm for more youth, but Spain's national side are almost all in their prime.

For this week's squad, the three goalkeepers are aged 30 or 31, while all seven defenders are between 23 and 29. Eight of the nine midfielders are aged between 25 and 30, with Xavi the oldest in the squad at 32. The average age of the four forwards is 27. Without becoming veterans, eight of the players have more than 70 international caps.

Many an opposing coach has tried to find faults, but Spain remain peerless. They will need to be if they are to become the first non-South American country to win a World Cup in that continent.