By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) – For all Vicente del Bosque’s confidence that he has the right balance of experience and youth to return Spain to their familiar place on the winner’s rostrum, questions remain about his best starting line-up ahead of Euro 2016.
On the surface, Spain’s qualifying record of nine wins out of 10 going into the tournament looks impressive but they rarely delivered performances to suggest they could pick up a third successive title or banish the memories of their 2014 World Cup failure.
No-one will be keener to prove the doubters wrong than Del Bosque in what looks to be his last hurrah as Spain’s coach.
Once again he can call on trusted stalwarts Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Cesc Fabregas, all regulars before or since the 2010 World Cup triumph, this time blending them with a new generation of young players such as Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke and Juventus striker Alvaro Morata.
“I really believe in the veterans who have spent a long time with us and we trust the newcomers, who give the squad impulse and fresh blood,” said Del Bosque.
“Our objective is to think beyond the two European Championships we’ve won, because people are only going to value what we do in the next one.”
Another triumph will require a settled spine to his team, yet there remains uncertainty over who will start as central striker and in goal, where the manager must decide whether to demote Iker Casillas in favour of De Gea, whose consistently outstanding performances in the last three seasons contrast with the long-standing captain’s waning powers.
Up front, the situation is equally fluid. After leaving out Diego Costa and Paco Alcacer — top scorer in qualifying — Del Bosque is likely to opt for Morata as first-choice striker, although he made just 16 league starts for Juventus.
Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz is in the form of his life at the age of 35 and scored more goals than any other Spaniard in the campaign but there are doubts about whether his physical, direct style fits in with Spain’s possession game.
At the back there remains an alarming lack of depth to cover for Sergio Ramos, who appears to have hit form at the right time after an inconsistent season, and Gerard Pique, who arrives on the back of another brilliant campaign with Barcelona.
Injury to either would be a major headache because the inclusion of Barcelona’s Marc Bartra, who has played relatively little first-team football this season, suggests experienced cover is not at hand.
Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.