How solid is Spain as a team? You could easily create the strong nucleus of a World Cup contender from their bench. Consider a team consisting of Victor Valdes, Raul Albiol, Álvaro Arbeloa, Carlos Marchena, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro, Javi Martinez, Jesus Navas and Fernando Llorente and you get the idea.
Full disclosure: I’m a big FC Barcelona fan. One of the highlights of a trip to Spain ten years ago was seeing a game at the Nou Camp stadium.
While Iker Casillas remains La Furia Roja’s number one keeper, for the past two seasons in La Liga Victor Valdes has compiled a better record with 34 clean sheets to Casillas’ 28, yet Valdes just got his first cap a week ago today against South Korea. Two of Valdes’ teammates at Barcelona, Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué form a tough and savvy central defense, with Joan Capdevila at left back and Sérgio Ramos at right back. Notwithstanding his athleticism, I don’t think Ramos always keeps his head in the game and that makes me a bit nervous.
Xabi Alonso is an excellent anchor in the defensive midfield and possesses a strong foot on free kicks. The heart and soul of Spain’s midfield are Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Xavi is a marvelous playmaker and arguably the best passer in the game, sending the ball through to his teammates as if it had eyes. He was voted the player of the tournament in the 2008 European Championship. In my opinion there is no better on-field tactician. He is complemented superbly by Andres Iniesta, another relatively small player who, like Xavi, makes up for his physical limitations with his head for the game and technical ability.
The forward combination of Fernando Torres and David Villa. While Torres has a good nose for the goal, I believe Villa is more versatile and a better finisher. In reserve they have the speedy Jesus Navas and Juan Mata and the 6’5″ target of Fernando Llorente.
Chile is another underrated team from South America. They are coached by Marcelo Bielsa, an Argentine who led them skillfully during qualification in which they finished in second place, one point behind Brazil. Likely in defense you’ll find a versatile group with pace: Gonzalo Jara, Waldo Ponce, Arturo Vidal and perhaps Pablo Contreras. Carlos Carmona, Rodrigo Millar and Gary Medel form the heart of the midfield with Matias Frnandez as a withdrawn striker/midfield playmaker.
Humberto Suazo and Alexis Sánchez make for a fairly impressive forward attacking pair. Remember, Chile doesn’t have to beat everyone in this group; just everyone except for Spain.
In this group the Swiss strike me as a bit stolid and unimaginative. Granted, they won their group in qualification, but their group consisted of Greece, Luxembourg, Moldova, Latvia and Israel. Too bad they couldn’t have faced a tough team like the Faeroe Islands. . .
That notwithstanding, Diego Benaglio is a good keeper. With the exception of Phiippe Senderos, a hardworking center back who’s good in the air, I’m not familiar with their defenders. I do know their likely midfield of Tranquillo Barnetta, Gelosn Fernandes, Gokhan Inler and Marco Paladino and it’s decent, aggressive, but can’t solve the problems in the defense and in the attack. Switzerland will rely either on Alex Frei, if he can remain healthy along with Blaise Nkufo (age 35 with his next stop Seattle in the MLS) or Hakan Yakin, a creative player to be sure, but one man does not make a team.
I haven’t seen much of the Honduran players except in qualification. I do like Maynor Figueroa, who scored the goal of the year for the English Premier League last year: a strike from beyond midfield that seemed to be laser-guided. I also like Wilson Palacios, Hendry Tomas and David Suazo. I had the singular misfortune of seeing the skilled, but, to be charitable, mercurial Amado Guevara play here in the MLS. There’s some talent there with out question, but they’re outclassed in this group.
Spain and Chile will go through.
Let the games begin!
Cross posted at Beautiful Horizons.