strength lies in attack
Spain, as ever, will enter EURO 2004 as one the favourites to
reach the tournament's latter stages.
Tuesday, 20 January 2004
Iñaki Sáez's side have won ten out of 15 games since he took
over from José Antonio Camacho in July 2002, including the
two victories over Norway in the play-offs that ensured
qualification for the finals.
Spain's solitary defeat in that period was at home against
Greece, who pushed them into second place in their qualifying
group and whom they must play again during the group phase in
Portugal. Their other Group A opponents are Russia and hosts
Portugal, who they face in their final match of the section in
Lisbon. Spain have only beaten their neighbours once in the
last 46 years - a 3-0 win in Portugal last September.
Spain's recent success has been based around their strength
going forward. Sáez favours playing a single striker
supported by an attacking midfield player and this tactic
yielded five goals in the two games against Norway. Raúl
González, Alberto Luque and
Fernando Torres are all competing for the lone striker's
position, while Juan Carlos Valerón's form for Deportivo La
Coruña seems to have secured him the supporting role.
This attacking threat is backed up by a solid midfield. The
Valencia duo Rubén Baraja and David Albelda offer security
and allow Xabi Alonso to get forward and provide a goal
threat. Vicente Rodríguez's crosses from the wings have also
been an important factor.
There are question marks, however, against the Spanish
defence. Barcelona's Carles Puyol has been unconvincing at
left-back and the most obvious alternatives are struggling for
fitness. Juanfran is suffering from a knee injury and García
Calvo has only just returned to action after surgery on his
On the plus side, Real Madrid's goalkeeper Iker Casillas has
been in inspirational form and has shown that he can perform
under pressure. They also have strong back-up in Valencia's
Santiago Cañizares, who has conceded the fewest goals in the
Primera División this season.
Sáez will also take comfort from the performances of Carlos
Marchena and Iván Helguera, who have both adapted well in the
move from midfield to central defence. There is also Madrid's
Raúl Bravo, who can play in both central defence and on the
left. Indeed one strength of the Spain squad is Sáez has
plenty of cover across the board.
Valencia striker Mista has scored ten goals this season, Real
Betis Balompié winger Joaquín Sánchez is pushing for a
place ahead of Joseba Etxeberria and Barcelona's exciting
teenage midfield player Andrés Iniesta might get a call-up if
he can continue his current form until the end of the season.
The Sevilla striker José Antonio Reyes could also prove a
useful squad member. He is quick and offers an alternative to
Vicente on the left. - By Andy