As the countdown to UEFA EURO 2004™ gathers pace, uefa.com considers what the coming months might hold for the 16 finalists. Today we look at Spain.
By Andy Hall
Spain, as ever, will enter UEFA EURO 2004™ as one the favourites to reach the tournament's latter stages.
Coach 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 RC Deportivo La Coruña seems to have secured him the supporting role.
This attacking threat is backed up by a solid midfield. The Valencia CF 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. FC 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 toe.
On the plus side, Real Madrid CF'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 CF's Santiago Cañizares, who has conceded the fewest goals in the Primera División this season.
Plenty of cover
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.
Iniesta in form
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 FC striker José Antonio Reyes could also prove a useful squad member. He is quick and offers an alternative to Vicente on the left.
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