Team Profile: The defending champions are ranked best in the world by FIFA and second by UEFA. Having won Euro 2008, they went on to be crowned world champions in South Africa two years later. Now they have the chance to make history by winning back-to-back European Championships – only the USSR and West Germany have come close, reaching the final as defending champions in 1964 and 1976 respectively, but falling at the last hurdle. Before their recent success, the Spanish were considered major underachievers, but this generation of Spaniards – largely made up of Barcelona players, boasting the likes of Xavi and Iniesta – has dazzled with its so-called ‘tiki-taka’ football. Yet there is a small suggestion that the tides may have begun to turn – note Barcelona’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Chelsea this season, plus there’s Spain’s unwanted record of the fewest goals ever scored by a World Cup-winning team. Still, you’d be daft to bet against them.
Coach: Vincente del Bosque
The mastermind behind Spain’s success at the 2010 World Cup, some might say former Real Madrid manager del Bosque had it easy, taking over from Luis Aragonés in July 2008 after the team’s success at Euro 2008 and inheriting easily the most gifted set of players. Indeed, he went on to set a new global record by winning his opening 13 matches and qualifying with ease for the World Cup. The road to this summer’s tournament has been equally blemish-free, with Spain winning all eight of their qualification matches. Clearly he’s doing something right.
Player to watch: Andrés Iniesta
In a side so blessed with talent, it’s difficult to highlight any one player, but our star man would have to be Iniesta. A Barcelona player through and through, developing through the club’s youth academy, the diminutive midfielder made his first-team debut in 2002 at the age of 18 and has been with the Spanish national team since 2006. His eye-catching skills, quick feet and incisive through-balls played a key part in Barca’s record-breaking 2008-09 season, in which they won a whopping six titles. Iniesta then went on to score the winning goal against the Dutch in the 2010 World Cup final, earning him Man of the Match.
FIFA World Ranking: 1
UEFA Euro Ranking: 2
Number of Euro appearances: 13
Previous best: Winners in 1964 and 2008
Qualification: Winners of Group I – 26 goals scored, 6 goals against, 86 attempts on target, 78 corners
Form (qualifying): WWWWWWWW
Fixtures: June 10 vs. Italy; June 14 vs. Ireland; June 18 vs. Croatia