Spain has achieved something that no team in history has accomplished, by winning two European championships and the World Cup in 10 years. To say that they dominated international football for a decade would be an understatement, but in Brazil, they will be challenged by tough opponents. The hosts are credited with a better chance to prevail and Argentina comes in second, but what’s surprising is that Germany is also ahead of them in the bookmakers’ preferences.
This doesn’t mean that Spain will be a pushover, in fact those who bet on them to win for the fourth time in a row will increase their investment eight times. The odds are terrific and it is definitely worth taking a leap of faith with the reigning European and world champions. The same can’t be said about them winning the group stage, not because they don’t have the first chance to do it at the expense of Netherlands, Australia and Chile, but because odds are ridiculously low.
The Netherlands are a team that somehow finds new and surprising ways of disappointing fans and football specialists alike, but at least on paper they have a great team. It is hard to forget how they made the final four years ago and it would be stupid to dismiss them as underdogs. Basically, these two teams will play for the first place in Group D and the winner will probably pick up the consolation prize of finishing second.
It is more important that it looks to win the group, because strong teams are expected to come from the other groups and the last thing that Spain needs is a breathtaking match in the round of last 16. This is probably going to be the last major competition for a handful of the players, with some of those who made history at the last final tournaments expected to retire the next year.
Vincent Del Bosque knows that he has another challenge besides managing a somewhat aging team, with the biggest problem to tackle being the one of keeping players motivated. When a team wins so many international trophies in as little as a decade, it is easy to understand why some players start to take victories for granted. Furthermore, they tend to lose motivation and are no longer willing to put everything on the line for a victory, because they did it so many times before.
On the bright side, Spain suffered a humiliating defeat to Brazil earlier this year and allowed three goals without scoring one, so that match could serve as a wake-up call. The group stage will provide them with several opportunities to test their starting formation and the Netherlands will be a tough nut to crack. If Vincent Del Bosque can draw the right conclusions from this initial phase and make certain adjustments in his first 11, Spain will be a team that everyone will hope to avoid in the elimination rounds.