COMMENT: Vicente del Bosque looks to reshape la Roja following disappointment at Brazil 2014 and the international retirement of several key players
A new era begins. Spain's cycle of success came to an abrupt end at the World Cup in June with the shock and disappointment of group-stage exit in Brazil. After six years of winning the game's greatest prizes, la Roja suffered the ignominy of being knocked out before anyone else. Now they must start afresh.
Coach Vicente del Bosque has remained in charge to lead the rebuilding project, but there are significant changes in Spain's squad to face France in a friendly on Thursday and meet Macedonia in a Euro 2016 qualifier on Monday.
In goal, captain Iker Casillas is retained despite a calamitous campaign at Brazil 2014 and some poor performances at Real Madrid in recent times. "Iker is in an ambiguous situation and I'm sure he is having a bad time of it," Del Bosque said this week.
That situation for his club is now mirrored by the circumstances at international level and Casillas faces competition from two younger men this time, with Manchester United's David de Gea and Espanyol's Kiko Casilla also in the squad. Pepe Reina, now second choice at Bayern Munich, and Victor Valdes, still recovering from a long-term injury and yet to sign for a new club after his Barcelona contract expired, appear to be out of the picture. "I know who my goalkeeper will be," Del Bosque said. "But I won't reveal it."
In defence, Gerard Pique was left out after telling Del Bosque he was still struggling with injury. The Barca centre-back turned out for his club against Villarreal on Sunday, however, with Luis Enrique claiming he in "perfect" condition and the 26-year-old later revealing he had asked to be excluded from the latest squad.
Pique's dramatic dip in form over the last couple of years means he is no longer a guaranteed first choice alongside Sergio Ramos, yet the only real candidate to replace him is club colleague Marc Bartra. Athletic's Mikel San Jose is not even a regular starter for the Basque side, while Napoli defender Raul Albiol appears very fortunate to be in the squad, Bayern's Javi Martinez is sidelined for the rest of the season and Real Sociedad's Inigo Martinez was not even called up.
Barca's Jordi Alba should keep his place at left-back, while Madrid's Dani Carvajal (inexplicably left out of Spain's World Cup squad) will compete with Atletico's Juanfran on the right.
The biggest changes will be in midfield, however, following the retirement of two fixtures in the Spain side of recent years: Xavi and Xabi Alonso. With Andres Iniesta also missing these two games through injury, Del Bosque can try out a new-look midfield against France and Macedonia.
Koke looks certain to occupy the role of midfield creator and he could be joined by Atletico team-mate Raul Garcia, who is on fine form for his club but doesn't look like a real option for the future. Sergio Busquets is a definite, while Cesc Fabregas should be given a chance after a strong start to his Chelsea career. David Silva and Santi Cazorla are also in the squad, along with the uncapped Ander Iturraspe and Isco, who has mainly featured from the bench for Madrid since moving from Malaga last year.
In attack, Del Bosque seems set to keep faith with Brazilian-born Diego Costa, even though the former Atleti striker failed to shine at the World Cup. "We didn't connect with him as we should have," the coach claimed this week.
Costa, well short of full fitness in Brazil as he recovered from an injury which cut short his participation in the Champions League final in Lisbon, will compete for the starting spot with Valencia youngster Paco Alcacer as Spain start a new cycle without another legend, their all-time top goalscorer David Villa.
"Players like Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Villa were exemplary," Del Bosque said. "I want their spirit it to live on in this team. Let's hope this new era can be a success." It's a big challenge.