(La Roja/The Red One)
Champions: 1 (2010)
Fourth Place: 1 (1950)
Quarter Finalists: 4 (1934, 1986, 1994, 2002)
Round of 16: 3 (1990, 2006, 2018)
Second Round: 1 (1982)
Group Stage: 5 (1962, 1966, 1978, 1998, 2014)
Current FIFA Ranking: 7
Group C Schedule
Game 1 – Wednesday 23rd November 2022
19:00 Qatar Time/16:00 GMT
Al Thumama Stadium, Doha
Game 2 – Sunday 27th November 2022
22:00 Qatar Time/19:00 GMT
Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Game 3 – Thursday 1st December 2022
22:00 Qatar Time/19:00 GMT
Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Spain’s most outstanding achievement was winning the World Cup in 2010. They are also joint-record winners of the European Championship (alongside Germany) with three titles, one coming in 1964 and the others in 2008 and 2012. In 2012, they became the first team to win three consecutive tournaments since the World Cup’s inauguration. In addition, they won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1992.
Spain are one of the top nations in international football and have one of the strongest domestic leagues. Many would claim that Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two biggest clubs in the world. The history of the national team goes far back. Having won the Silver Medal at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, at the end of the decade, they became the first team from Continental Europe to defeat England, winning 4-3 in Madrid in May 1929. However, they had an inauspicious start in the FIFA World Cup, declining to enter the inaugural edition in 1930. They did enter in 1934, reaching the quarter-finals in Italy. However, the onset of the Spanish Civil War and World War II prevented the team from playing competitive games until the 1950 qualifiers. They returned to claim fourth place in Brazil ’50, finishing bottom of the final round-robin group, which replaced the more usual semi-final and final stage. This finish remains Spain’s second-best placing in the tournament’s history, and the following sixty years would be marked by underachievement and frustration.
Inability To Recreate Real Madrid’s success
Indeed, Spain’s mid-to-late 50s were a pretty bipolar time. At club level, Real Madrid had ascended and entered a golden period, winning the first five editions of the newly created European Cup from 1956 to 1960. These victories occurred under club president Santiago Bernabeu and the regime of right-wing dictator General Franco (who ruled Spain from 1936 to 1975). Real Madrid boasted foreign players such as Frenchman Raymond Kopa and Hungarian Ferenc Puskas, who did well for the nation of his birth in the 1954 World Cup. The team also consisted of native and naturalised Spanish players such as defender Jose Santamaria, midfielder Jose Maria Zarraga and winger Francisco Gento. Indeed, Gento remains the only man to win six European Cups. All-time great forward Alfredo Di Stefano was also present. Santamaria and Di Stefano were born in Uruguay and Argentina respectively, but Santamaria also represented Spain, Di Stefano also represented Colombia and Spain, and Puskas also represented Spain. However, at the same time that Real Madrid were dominating, Spain failed to qualify for the 1954 and 1958 World Cup tournaments. They did qualify for Chile in 1962, but a muscular injury to Di Stefano prevented him from playing as Spain crashed out in the group stage. A legend of the game, Di Stefano never playing in the World Cup remains one of the biggest regrets in Argentinean and Spanish football, as does the fact that the national team could not capitalise on Real Madrid’s strength at that time.
1964 Euro Triumph and Disappointments
In 1964, Spain had their proudest moment yet, winning the second edition of the European Nations’ Cup (latterly named the European Championship) on home soil. They defeated defending champions the Soviet Union 2-1 in the final in Madrid, with six Spanish players (including diminutive attacking midfielder Luis Suarez) being named in the team of the tournament. Real Madrid were still doing well, with a new look team captained by Gento dominating La Liga and winning the 1966 European Cup. However, England ’66 led to further dejection for Spain, with another disappointing group stage exit, finishing third in a group also containing West Germany, Argentina, and Switzerland. Spain then entered a period of decline, reflected by the country’s troubling end to the Francoist era. Between 1968 and 1976, Spain failed to qualify for five consecutive international tournaments, including Mexico ’70 and West Germany ’74. They returned in 1978 in Argentina but were again eliminated in the group stage during a controversial edition.
World Cup Hosts and Difficulties in 80s and 90s
Spain had been selected as the host of the 1982 tournament in 1976. Coached by Real Madrid alumnus Santamaria, they finished second in a group comprising Honduras, Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland, enduring a humiliating defeat in the final game by the latter. They finished last behind West Germany and England in the second group stage, and Santamaria was fired. It was another disappointing campaign, but this one especially stung as it had transpired on home soil.
1986 and 1990 were similarly disappointing, with a quarter-final exit and round-of-16 elimination respectively. However, there was the emergence of young striker Emilio Butragueno, who scored five goals in Mexico in ’86, to offer some consolation. 1994 and 1998 were similar, claiming a quarter-final place in the former and group stage finish in the latter. Despite the emergence of exciting talents such as goalscoring defender Fernando Hierro, midfielders Josep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, and young strikers Fernando Morientes and Raul Gonzalez, the team were still plagued by internal strife and politics between the Real Madrid and Barcelona factions. Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’ had won their first European Cup in 1992 under the tutelage of Total Football proponent Johan Cruyff, with Guardiola and foreign legends of the game such as Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, and Hristo Stoitchkov starring. Yet again, however, the national team could not translate success at club level to the international arena.
2008-2012: The Golden Generation
2002 and 2006 were also frustrating, with a loss on penalties in the quarter-final to co-hosts South Korea in the former. The match was marred by controversy, one example being when Spain scored a ruled-out goal from a Joaquin Sanchez cross where the official judged the ball to have been over the goal line, but replays showed it had stayed in play. In 2006 they lost in the round of 16 to a resurgent Zinedine Zidane-inspired France. However, something was building. The team was bedding in exciting young players such as Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Fernando Torres, and David Villa. This exciting team, anchored by defensive midfielder Marcos Senna, emerged victorious at Euro 2008 under coach Luis Aragones, thanks to a Torres goal in the final match versus Germany in Vienna. It was clear that something special was happening. When, in the summer of 2008, Vicente Del Bosque replaced Aragones after the tournament and a young Guardiola was named Barcelona coach in his first big job, things really began to take off.
Under Del Bosque’s stewardship and with the increasing Barcelona/Catalan influence in the team, Spain played a more measured and controlled style of football than they had in Euro 2008. While Barcelona were cementing themselves as one of the greatest club teams of all time from 2008 to 2012, Spain were mirroring this at the international level. Indeed, they travelled to South Africa in 2010 as one of the favourites. They shockingly lost the first game vs Switzerland 1-0 but recovered to defeat Honduras and Chile and qualify for the round of 16. Consecutive 1-0 victories against Paraguay, Portugal, and Germany followed. However, the Spaniards faced criticism for being too ‘boring’, accused of playing the same style of tiki-taka football as Barcelona but being less vertical and lacking the end product that Barca forward Lionel Messi provided.
These claims endured, but the intriguing victory in the semi versus Germany had particularly showcased Spain’s ability to control matches. The final versus the Netherlands was an explosive affair where the Netherlands were accused of being too aggressive. Talented Dutch forward Arjen Robben missed an excellent chance when through one-on-one with Casillas. However, Iniesta scored the winner in extra time after an incisive pass from Fabregas, and suddenly Spain were reigning European and World Champions. The pain of the previous sixty years had been lifted, and the Barcelona and Real Madrid influence, while still prickly, was paying dividends. Indeed, Villarreal left-back Joan Capdevila was the only non-Clasico player in the starting eleven in the final. Spain had reached the pinnacle and were now considered one of the greatest national teams ever. From there, they cemented their brilliance by successfully defending their European title in 2012. Their critics remained, but the Spaniards defended their style of play and defiantly answered the cynics with a crushing, entertaining 4-0 defeat of a helpless Italian team in the final in Kiev.
Old Wounds Resurface Then New Hope
Spain had become the first team to win three consecutive major competitions since the World Cup’s inauguration and were on cloud nine. However, defeat in the 2013 Confederations Cup Final followed, as old wounds began to resurface. The golden generation had aged, many of them well into their thirties. In Brazil ’14, Spain succumbed to the ‘curse of the champions’, suffering a vengeful 5-1 humiliating defeat to the Netherlands and a subsequent group stage elimination. It was the end of an era, and Xavi, amongst others, announced his international retirement following the tournament. At Euro 2016 and Russia 2018, Spain were eliminated in the round of 16, and normal service appeared to have resumed. However, a promising Euro 2020 campaign that yielded a semi-final place under the leadership of new manager Luis Enrique and second place in the Finals of the 2021 Nations League has offered cause for optimism. There is a new generation on the horizon, and while not at the level of the 2008-2012 team (not many are), they will be hoping to go far in Qatar playing their possession brand of football.
Road to Qualification
UEFA Group B: 1st
Record: Played:8 W:6 D:1 L:1 F:15 A:5 GD:+10 Points:19
Date of Qualification: 14th November 2021
As in many five-team groups, qualification was tighter than in a larger, more extended group. Spain faced off against Sweden, Greece, Georgia, and Kosovo. An opening draw in Granada against Greece and a stoppage-time win in Georgia were far from the perfect start. However, this was followed up with a reasonably comfortable win at home against Kosovo. A loss in Sweden after taking an early lead followed, putting some pressure on Spain as Sweden were now leading the group. However, wins at home to Georgia and away to Kosovo and Greece scoring seven goals over the three games and conceding none, eased tensions. These results, allied to a shock loss for Sweden in Georgia on the penultimate matchday, put the Spanish in a commanding position going into the last game in the Seville heat against the Swedes, a repeat of the Euro 2020 fixture in the same stadium. Requiring merely a draw to qualify, Spain mostly controlled a tight, nervy game. Sweden had a chance or two on the break, but Alvaro Morata scored in the 86th minute to seal the Spaniards’ place in the finals. Ferran Torres was the highest Spanish goalscorer in qualification with four goals.
Meet the Coach: Luis Enrique (age 52)
Enrique was a combative but technically gifted attacking midfielder who crossed the Clasico divide by playing for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. He got his first taste of the World Cup as a player in USA ’94, famously clashing with Mauro Tassotti in a quarter-final defeat to Italy, which broke Enrique’s nose. Enrique also starred at France ’98 and South Korea/Japan 2002 and Euro 96 in England, winning 62 caps in the process. He retired from playing in 2004 and, by 2008, had taken on a coaching role with Barcelona B. He helped the Barcelona reserve team gain promotion to the Segunda Division, the second tier of Spanish football. He next coached Roma but his season there was unsuccessful and he departed at its end. In 2013-2014 he helped Celta Vigo to 9th place in La Liga and then returned home in 2014 to Barcelona to coach the first team. In his first season, he won the La Liga, Copa del Rey, and Champions League treble, emulating Pep Guardiola’s achievement in the Barca hot seat six years prior. He retained the title and the Copa del Rey the following season but could not retain the Champions League as bitter rivals Real Madrid were crowned European champions.
Enrique vacated his position at Barcelona in the summer of 2017 and, a year later, took charge of Spain following their unsuccessful World Cup campaign. In September 2018, his first match went well, beating England 2-1 at Wembley in the Nations League. However, he quit in the summer of 2019 due to the tragic death of his 9-year-old daughter, Xana. He returned in November 2019 just as COVID-19 was commencing, disrupting his preparations for Euro 2020. The tournament was then postponed until summer 2021, and when the competition finally arrived, Enrique only selected a 24-man squad despite being permitted 26. In picking no Real Madrid players for his final squad, he was accused of Barcelona bias and playing politics. Spain played all three group games in Seville in the pan-European tournament but could only finish second in their section behind Sweden. After a scare in the round of 16 in Copenhagen, where Croatia came back from 3-1 down to force extra time but ultimately lost in the overtime period, Spain defeated Switzerland on penalties in the quarter-final in Saint Petersburg.
This victory set up a showdown with eternal rivals Italy at Wembley Stadium in the first semi-final. The Spaniards controlled possession well, and teenage midfielder Pedri particularly shined, but Morata, Mikel Oyarzabal, and Dani Olmo were all wasteful in front of goal as Spain lost on penalties. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Enrique after a hard-fought knockout round. However, lessons have been learned, and they have won the right to play in their second successive Nations League Finals next summer. Enrique travels to Qatar as one of the more decorated managers in the tournament, knowing that nobody can dominate possession quite as his Spain side can and looking to impose an exciting, attacking brand of football inspired by the golden generation.
Possible Starting XI and Style of Play
As stated, the Spaniards like to play controlled, possession football in their tried and trusted 4-3-3 formation. Dominating the ball has become their trademark in the last 10 to 15 years, and they pride themselves on playing a more interesting brand of football than that of rivals Italy (who will not be at this tournament). They will plan to retain possession and starve the opposition of the ball, then look for gaps to exploit to create chances. The goalkeeper position has been an ongoing problem with David De Gea’s struggles. Still, it seems Unai Simon has command of the position, with able deputies in Robert Sanchez and David Raya. There are plentiful fullback options such as Marcos Llorente, Jose Gaya, and the ever-dependable and versatile Cesar Azpilicueta. However, old heads Jordi Alba and Dani Carvajal may get the spots. They will look to drive forward and support in attack, as they have done for so many successful years at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. Centre-back options include Eric Garcia, Aymeric Laporte, and Pau Torres, who are all comfortable on the ball in the Spanish tradition. As in Euro 2020, legendary defender Sergio Ramos has been left at home.
The midfield, for many years Spain’s strongest area, includes experienced captain Sergio Busquets, Rodri, and combative midfielder Koke. There has also been the emergence of young Barcelona sensations Pedri and Gavi, who, at 19 and 18 respectively, are two of the most impressive teenagers in world football and already trusted by Enrique – so much so that Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara has not been selected. Koke may be left out to accommodate Gavi, or they could play an extra midfielder. In attacking areas, Dani Olmo, Pablo Sarabia, Alvaro Morata, Yeremy Pino, Ansu Fati, Marco Asensio, Nico Williams, and Ferran Torres are all technically gifted, although they can be wasteful in front of goal. However, they will link up well with the midfielders and fullbacks and look to provide an end product. The Spaniards, therefore, have many options, and the generous squad size and number of substitutions permitted will be crucial for them. However, they must improve their finishing if they have any dreams of lifting the trophy.
Goalkeepers: Unai Simon, Robert Sanchez, David Raya.
Defenders: Dani Carvajal, Cesar Azpilicueta, Eric Garcia, Hugo Guillamon, Pau Torres, Aymeric Laporte, Jordi Alba, Jose Gaya.
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets, Rodri, Gavi, Carlos Soler, Marcos Llorente, Pedri, Koke.
Forwards: Ferran Torres, Nico Williams, Yeremi Pino, Alvaro Morata, Marco Asensio, Pablo Sarabia, Dani Olmo, Ansu Fati.
Date and Place of Birth: (16.07.1988, Badia del Valles)
Current Club: Barcelona
One of the elder statesmen in the Spanish team, Busquets first emerged from Barcelona B under Pep Guardiola at Camp Nou. He formed an exceptional midfield trident with legends Xavi and Andres Iniesta at both club and international levels, resulting in many titles. As he has aged, he has become more of a leader and now captains the national side. He does not get many goals or assists from his defensive midfield position but is seemingly so press-resistant that he is almost impossible to dispossess. He will be a guiding example and mentor for the younger players in the squad, particularly clubmates and midfield partners Pedri and Gavi. Enrique trusts him, and he has rarely let Spain down.
Date and Place of Birth: (25.11.2002, Tegueste)
Current Club: Barcelona
Still a very tender age, Pedri turns 20 during the tournament in between the Costa Rica and Germany games. He has already played so much football for one so young, playing the game in such a composed and diligent manner which has invited comparisons to his idol, Iniesta. He has already formed a blossoming midfield partnership with Gavi at Barcelona, with Catalans and national team fans dreaming about a Xavi/Iniesta repeat. A fantastic passer of the ball and good at carrying it too, he possesses a lot of heart and fight (though maybe he is not quite as in your face as Gavi) and can do the dirty things well too. If Spain are to perform well in Qatar, Pedri will have to be on top form.
Date and Place of Birth: (29.02.2000, Foios)
Current Club: Barcelona
Torres makes it a clean sweep of Barcelona players in our key player list, highlighting the importance of the club to the Spanish National Team. Like Pedri and Gavi, Torres is still a young man, but while he is good in possession and has excellent ball control, he is more of an attacker and less of a playmaker. He will be direct at the tournament, looking to take players on and use his excellent movement to get in behind teams and score goals. He is not particularly prolific at club level, having scored just 38 goals in 196 appearances but in his defence, he has often been used from the bench, especially during his time at Manchester City. However, 13 goals in 30 Spain caps is very respectable. He will hope that if he is given a sustained role in the team, he can score the goals which will take Spain far.