By Emmanuel Okogba
The fortunes of the Spanish national team La Roja have gone downhill since the triumph in Nelson Mandela’s South Africa a little over a decade ago, when Andres Iniesta scored deep in stoppage time to hand the European nation its first FIFA World Cup title.
The next two editions that followed were forgettable outings. First, it was the “winner’s curse” that befell them at the 2014 edition in Brazil – crashing out in the group stage after humiliating losses to the Netherlands and Chile.
They managed to get out of the group stage in 2018 before bowing out in the second round to host Russia. Luis Enrique who is now in charge had to attend to family issues and left the team to Fernando Hierro who with no top-level managerial experience did the little he could.
Enrique released a provisional squad of 45 players that had a notable omission – Manchester United’s David De Gea.
De Gea has been one of the safest hands in the world in recent times and will comfortably stroll into any team, but Enrique showed loss of confidence in the 31-year-old shot stopper when he opted for Unai Simon who plays for Atletic Bilbao ( has also been first choice of late), Robert Sanchez of Brighton and Hove Albion and David Raya of Brentford. Kepa Arrizabalaga of Chelsea and David Soria of Getafe are on standby.
The World Cup will be Simon’s first and Enrique will be hoping on him being the last line of defence to save the team when his defenders falter. Can he?
Players to watch out for
Name: Sergio Ramos
Current club: PSG
Ramos has been part of all Spain’s World Cup campaign since his debut in 2006 and even captained them at the last edition in Russia. Now 36, the oldest player in this set up, and with age no longer on his side, this is definitely the hard-tackling defender’s last outing in a national jersey. Injuries has led to a dip in his form and he may likely not get a starting spot, but it is left to see how it will turn out if/when he gets a look in. His presence can also serve as a morale booster for other defenders in the squad.
Current club: Barcelona
Gavi at just 18 is part of the provisional squad. If he makes the cut, he will be one of the youngest players at the finals. The Barcelona star has also racked up twelve caps which is a testament to what he brings to the team. Although he may not be a starter, expect him to make his presence felt whenever he is introduced.
Name: Alvaro Morata
Current club: Atletico Madrid
One of the finest strikers of his generation, Alvaro Morata leads the attacking department of players in the provisional squad with 27 goals from 57 outings. The Atletico Madrid man sort of becomes a shadow of himself in international tournaments, but if Spain is going to challenge for the title, Morata will have to bring his scoring boots along with him to Qatar.
Name: Luis Enrique
Luis Enrique, a former Spain international will be in charge of his first World Cup as coach after missing the Russia edition due to a family emergency. The team has gone through a rebuilding process under Enrique that saw the axing of some big name players. Although the team is nothing close in comparison to the class of 2010 that had Xavi Hernandez, David Villa, Fernando Torres and Andres Iniesta, they should be able to give a good account of themselves in Qatar.
Nov 23: Spain vs Costa Rica
Nov 27: Spain vs Germany
Dec 1: Japan vs Spain