Back in 2008, Spain went to the European Championships as perennial underachievers.
Victory in 1964 came courtesy of wins against Hungary and the Soviet Union, just two matches and little to write home about. In the years that followed, a talented group of players had often come close to a major tournament win but also failed to land the big prizes. They finished as runner up to Michel Platini and France in 1984, which was as close to holding a trophy they came in a generation.
That changed in 2008, courtesy of Fernando Torres’s winner in the final against Germany. Two years later, the World Cup arrived in Spain, and a wonderful four years was completed when they retained the Henri Delaunay Trophy in 2012, thrashing Italy 4-0 in a one-sided final.
Since then, success has proven to be elusive, and La Roja head into Euro 2020 behind the likes of England, France, Belgium and even the Netherlands with most pundits. This is despite thrashing Germany 6-0 in the Nations League in November 2020. With such a resounding win behind them, they should be written off at their opponents’ peril, but can they claim the title for a record fourth time?
The problem, despite that huge win against Germany, is a lack of attacking options. Luis Enrique’s men head into the tournament with Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno as their main attacking options, and many see that as the weakest they have been for some time. Young Ferran Torres has impressed, he bagged a hattrick against the Germans and has shown flashes of brilliance at Manchester City, but he is just 20-years-old and has not cemented a place in the first-team picture. Yet.
There is also a question over the age of some of the squad – Sergio Ramos has amassed 178 caps for his country, but he will be 35 by the time the tournament kicks off and it will surely be his swansong. In the middle of the park, Canales, Busquets, Koke and Thiago are all 29 or older, which does hint at a squad about to evolve, rather than excel.
The draw has been kind to Spain though, after a straightforward qualification process. They qualified top of Group F, a group including Sweden, Norway, Romania, Malta and the Faroe Islands. A Bwin Euro 2020 feature shows how they have been drawn against Sweden, Poland and outsiders Slovakia in the tournament proper, and having already beaten Sweden in the qualifiers, they do look to be favourites to emerge and into the last 16. If they do win Group B, they will meet one of the third-placed teams, a great chance to get into the quarter-finals.
Can they do it? The experience of those older heads certainly should give them some stability, if not excitement, and their group is likely to be one of the easier ones to win. If some of those younger players, such as Torres and Mikel Oyarzabal do manage to break into the side, then they might surprise a few people. Whether surprise is enough to mount a serious challenge on the trophy is another thing altogether, but pundits have seemingly already written the team off, which could be at their peril.