World Cup 2014: Spain Preview – Costa the key to success

Spanish Fans

Spain head into the World Cup as many fans' favourites for the competition, but can they really pull it off in Brazil's back yard?

The perception

Having won the last three major international tournaments, Spain will be many people’s favourites to make it a quadruple. This season’s Champions League final between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid showed that Spanish football remains strong, La Liga reclaiming the European dominance after the Bundesliga stole the show last season. Considering some of the players that will not make Vicente del Bosque’s final 23, it is clear they will be a daunting challenge to any opponent.

The reality

While this Spain squad is still chock-full of quality, the defeat they suffered in the 2013 Confederations Cup final at the hands of Brazil sent tremors through the world of football. Spain were soundly beaten that evening, the 3-0 defeat suggesting this year’s hosts have the wherewithal and the talent to beat the previously unbeatable. That said, the reigning champions will overcome the majority of sides they face.

Strengths

Their midfield remains a thing of wonder, even if Xavi is likely to be appearing in his final World Cup. The fact that Diego Costa has been added to the set-up means del Bosque now has an out-and-out quality front-man to call, which makes his recovery from injury vital.

They also have considerable strength-in-depth, which will be vital in the latter stages if injuries and suspensions take their toll.

Weaknesses

Without Costa they may revert to the “false nine” that could ultimately prove their undoing. They do also have the likes of David Villa and Fernando Torres to call on but Costa’s absence would be a huge blow.

That defeat against Brazil will have proved they are beatable, and their group will be anything but an easy ride. A repeat of the final four years ago against Holland will be a chance for Dutch revenge, and Spain could soon find themselves playing catch-up if they do not start strongly – something that is not always the case in major tournaments.

Key Player

Just one? In what is likely to be his final World Cup appearance, it has to be Xavi, who continues to be an outstanding example of midfield play at its best. He will want to bow out with yet another trophy and will do everything in his power to make that happen, especially after Barcelona’s disappointing campaign.

Xavi is not used to finishing campaigns empty-handed, and World Cup success would be the perfect riposte to those questioning Barca’s performances this season.

One to Watch

Koke has enjoyed an outstanding campaign for Atletico Madrid and could be set for his break-out international tournament this summer. While some of Spain’s midfielders are approaching the twilight of their career, Koke’s is just beginning.

The 22-year-old scored seven goals and set up a further 18 last season and he could be Spain’s ace-in-the-pack. His relationship with Costa could be vital as del Bosque heads into the tournament with something a little different.

Verdict

If Costa is fully fit Spain will be right up there with the best of them, almost certainly reaching the final. They have to start their group stage strongly and they will know that, but it could be a tournament too far if Brazil use the home crowd to their advantage.

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