World Cup 2018: Spain Squad Preview, Fixtures, Where to Watch, Best Starting XI & Predictions
After getting knocked out in the group stages of the FIFA World Cup in 2014 despite being defending champions, Spain will be looking to go much further in the 2018 edition in Russia. A fresh squad and a new coach give La Furia Roja hope and they are one of the favourites - at least on paper.
Spain topped their World Cup qualifying group without losing a single game. In 10 games, they won nine and drew just one, scoring 36 goals and conceding just three - utter domination.
They were one of the reasons why Italy failed to top the group and the Azzurri subsequently failed to qualify for the quadrennial event.
Spain's Group Fixtures and Venues
Match 1: Portugal vs Spain - 15 June, Friday, 21:00 local time (23:30 IST) at Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
Match 2: Iran vs Spain - 20 June, Wednesday, 21:00 local time (23:30 IST) at Kazan Arena, Kazan
Match 3: Spain vs Morocco - 25 June, Monday, 21:00 local time (23:30 IST) at Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
Also read: Top 5 Group Games to Watch at the World Cup
TV and Live Stream
TV: Sony Ten 2, Sony Ten 2 HD, Sony Ten 3, Sony Ten 3 HD
Live Stream: Sony LIV
Spain Squad for the World Cup
Goalkeepers: David De Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)
Defenders: Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad)
Midfielders: Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), David Silva (Manchester City), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid), Isco (Real Madrid)
Forwards: Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia)
Key Players to Watch: De Gea, Isco, Silva
Spain Coach: Julen Lopetegui - now replaced by Fernando Hierro
After Vicente Del Bosque decided to call it a day following Spain's exit in Euro 2016, a number of candidates were in the running for the Spain job. In the end, the national team was entrusted to Julen Lopetegui who had been managing Porto at the time.
Lopetegui was no stranger to the Spanish squad, though. He had managed Spain's youth sides and had even won the Euros with the U-19 and U-21 squads. Players such as De Gea, Alcantara, Koke, and Isco played under him back then are they now in the senior squad too.
However, Lopetegui was sacked one day before the tournament kicked off because he had taken the Real Madrid job without informing the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). Spain replaced him with Fernando Hierro whose only management experience came at Real Oviedo in Spain's Segunda Division.
Spain's Preferred Formation
This Spain squad is capable of playing in two different formations. Lopetegui has usually deployed a 4-3-3 but La Roja could also deploy a 4-5-1 formation.
Ultimately, it will depend on whether Lopetegui starts Diego Costa or benches him. With him spearheading the attack, Spain could play a 4-5-1 with the likes of Isco and David Silva making forward runs from midfield.
But in a 4-3-3, we could see players such as Isco, Silva, and Asensio play as wide forwards. There aren't many proven strikers in the squad apart from Costa. Aspas and Rodrigo may only make substitute appearances.
Spain's Best Starting XI
This is Costa's second World Cup and Lopetegui could play him up top. But he won't make the same mistakes that Del Bosque made in 2014 by trying to play a combination of possession and direct football.
This Spain squad are no longer built on Barcelona's model of possession football. Instead, it plays direct football with an emphasis on vertical movement. This is where Costa's presence and his runs will mesh well with the likes of Koke and Alcantara when they play.
The only problem with this lineup is we still do not know whether Dani Carvajal will indeed play for Spain following his injury in the Champions League final. However, Lopetegui has given him time to prove his fitness before the tournament gets underway.
Spain's History at the World Cup
Spain's most glorious era was undoubtedly between 2008 and 2012 when they won three international trophies on the trot. Their 2010 World Cup win was sandwiched between two continental wins - Euro 2008 and Euro 2012.
Prior to 2010, their best ever finish was in 1950 when they finished fourth in the final round-robin stage. They have reached the quarter-finals only five times.
One of their biggest upsets came in 2002 when a promising side were eliminated at the hands of South Korea when two goals were disallowed after which they lost on penalties.
Prediction: How far can Spain go?
This World Cup is one that is quite open with no clear favourites. Spain are favourites but so are Brazil, Germany, and France - teams with immense squad depth and talent to give each other a run for their money.
Spain have only Portugal to contend with in the group stage and should easily get past Iran and Morocco without breaking a sweat. However, topping the group or finishing second could make the difference between facing or avoiding dark horses Uruguay in the Round of 16.
If results go as predicted, they could meet Argentina in the quarter-finals. But having beaten them comfortably this season (albeit without Lionel Messi), Spain's collective can still get the job done and reach the semi-finals.
This is where they could meet Germany or Brazil and they might prove to be too big a hurdle for Spain to handle.
Prediction: Semi-final exit and possible third-place finish.
What do you think? How far can Spain go in the 2018 World Cup? Let us know in the comments below.