Judging by both the bookmakers, and common consensus, Brazil and Argentina are rated as having a better chance of winning the World Cup than defending European and World Cup holders Spain. Reasons for this vary from the climate, Spain's ageing squad and the fact that historically, no nation has retained the title since Brazil in 1962. Not that Vincente del Bosque will be taking any notice of matters outside of his jurisdiction.
The fact that Spain aren't clear favourites baffles me. Whilst Brazil possess a powerful squad, they are lacking the creativity of bygone years, and if Neymar isn't firing, which is a stark possibility given his recent season at Barcelona, the onus to create will fall on an out-of-sorts Oscar, and Willian, who is still somewhat untried at International level. Argentina are the polar opposite, boasting a squad brimming with attacking talent, but shawn of a world-class goalkeeper, centre-back and left-back, as well as a lack of balance in midfield.
La Roja's squad contains both a majestic one-to-eleven, and a deep set of talented reserves to call upon, which will be crucial in the Brazilian heat. The climate will not be as much of an issue for Spain, and in many senses it will benefit them, given they are able to dominate possession, and force teams to chase the ball.
Whilst they have been handed one of the toughest draws, alongside Netherlands, Chile and Australia, in Group B, it ensures they will have to be at the races from game one, and there will be no repeat of the lackadaisical approach they took when opening up against Switzerland in 2010, a game they went on to lose.
Many point to the Confederations Cup final against Brazil, in which they were comfortably beaten 3-0, as a marker for the World Cup. Brazil played the game of their lives, but there is little chance of a repeat result. For starters, Álvaro Arbeloa has been cut from the squad. He was conceivably at fault for all three goals, not dealing with the incoming cross for the first goal, and allowing himself to be drawn into the middle, leaving space out wide, for the second and third goal.
His replacements in the squad, Cesar Azpilicueta and Juanfran are not only better defenders, they are also more comfortable in possession. Azpilicueta has benefitted from a season under arguably the best defensive coach in the game, Jose Mourinho, whilst Juanfran has developed into an astute and aggressive right-back under Diego Simeone.
Vincente del Bosque has added power to the squad since the Confederations Cup, in particular the Atlético Madrid duo of Koke and Diego Costa. The 4-2-3-1 formation Spain are likely to adopt gives them plenty of steel and protection, with Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso the first-choice pairing in the midfield axis, leaving Koke and Javi Martínez to offer top quality replacements.
Addressing the criticism of Spain's ageing squad, the main additions to the squad, Costa, Koke, Azpilicueta, Alba and De Gea are all under the age of twenty-six. The elderly statesmen in the current squad, Xavi and Xabi Alonso, have never relied on pace as a key aspect of their game, and have the necessary players around them to provide energy and running.
The fitness of Diego Costa will be a major factor in how Spain perform. Fernando Torres, simply put, is not good enough to lead the line for Spain, and David Villa is arguably a better option if Costa is struggling with his troublesome hamstring. One idea that has been repeatedly floated is the use of Cesc Fabregas as an auxiliary striker, operating in the false-nine role that he has performed for Spain and Barcelona. So Spain have plenty of tactical variations to call upon, and the depth of squad to utilise any modifications.
The only dampener for Spain is the injury to Jesús Navas, which leaves Pedro as the only attacker with noticeable acceleration. A potential way of negating this issue would be to play Pedro on the right of the attacking trio, with Andrés Iniesta on the left, tucking in, allowing Alba to bomb forward. They are not a team that is overly reliant on pace, and intelligent movement allows them to get in behing teams.
All in all, it is difficult to imagine Spain not winning the World Cup. They have a balanced, experienced side, a manager who is not scared to make bold decisions, and most importantly a style that is conducive to the conditions, that are so often mentioned as a potential hurdle for the European sides.
Successfully defending both the World Cup and the Euros would surely cement Xavi, Iniesta and co. as the best international side ever.
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