As we near World Cup 2010, Goal.com's Cyrus C. Malek selects the best Spanish XI of the past decade...
But today, when we speak of La Furia Roja, we think of a side that not only wins, but also wins with style — a side that reigns atop the world (at least according to FIFA rankings) as the best national team. After a 40-year trophy drought, the Spanish national side broke their reputation for underachieving and forged through the knockout stages of the 2008 European Championships to claim the title. Led by then-coach Luis Aragones, the win served as a catharsis for a national squad teeming with some of the elite players of the world — many of whom are also some of the youngest players on the international stage.
Now, under new coach Vicente Del Bosque, the Spanish squad only looks as if it is getting stronger, beating some of the best sides in European football in international friendlies and World Cup qualifying matches.
This summer, in a tune-up for next summer’s 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Spain looked unstoppable, dominating possession throughout matches and knocking the ball around the pitch with crisp passing and movement. But despite their superb style of play, La Roja faltered against a surprisingly resilient and underrated United States squad in the Confederations Cup semi-finals. The loss, however, was mostly dismissed as an aberration, as injuries and chances that are normally slotted home caught up with the team — a touch of humility after a year of seemingly invincible play.
So as we approach World Cup 2010 with the Spanish Team of the Decade in mind, we do so knowing full well that we may soon be calling today’s Spain squad the Spanish Team of the Ages.
Iker Casillas (2000 - )
Highly touted as the best goalkeeper in the world, 'Saint Iker' now wears the captain’s armband for La Roja. Leading his team to European Championship success in 2008, Casillas was instrumental in helping Spain progress through the quarter-final stage, saving two critical penalties in a shootout with Italy. In October 2008, Casillas and deputy stopper Pepe Reina broke the national record for the most minutes without conceding a goal. The pair went unbeaten for 710 minutes, longer than the legendary Andoni Zubizarreta and Paco Buyo.
Michel Salgado (1998 - 2006)
Now considered a shadow of his former self, Michel Salgado was, for many years, one of the best right-backs in the world. Born in Galicia and frequently representing the autonomous Galician team, Salgado won the first of his 53 caps for Spain in 1998, in an infamous 3-2 Euro 2000 qualifying loss in Cyprus. He continued to serve his country as part of his nation's squads at Euro 2000 and the 2006 World Cup, starting in the former and serving as a backup to Real Madrid team-mate Sergio Ramos in the latter.
Unfortunately, Michel missed out on the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004, unable to compete due to last minute injuries.
Sergio Ramos (2005 - )
Sergio Ramos broke into Spain’s senior national side at only 18-years-old, making him the youngest player to play for the national team in the last 55 years until the record was again broken by Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas. After an impressive debut, the dynamic young Ramos was awarded a place in the team mainly due to the absence of club team-mate Michel Salgado. He was later announced as part of the Spain World Cup squad in 2006, and eventually replaced Salgado as Spain's first-choice right-back. His marauding runs down the right flank and penchant for attack make him one of the best right-backs in the world, but he is also a versatile defender, able to slot into central defence as well.
Carles Puyol (2000 - )
A rock in the Spanish back line, Puyol won his first international cap in 2000 against the Netherlands, and has remained a regular fixture in defence ever since. He has since represented his country at the 2000 Olympics, 2002 FIFA World Cup, Euro 2004, 2006 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2008. In winning the 2008 European Championships, Puyol started throughout the vast majority of the competition, snuffing out opposing chances; the Spanish defence only conceded two goals in five games as La Roja progressed to an eventual final win against Germany. Serving as vice captain of the Spanish national team, Puyol is an integral figure in defence.
Xavi Hernandez (2000 - )
Xavi made his senior debut in the same match as Barcelona team-mate Carles Puyol and has since been a regular fixture in the Spanish squad. As the architect of the Spanish attack, he is responsible for much of the creation in midfield and is constantly looking to slot passes through for the strikers. During Euro 2008, Xavi played a vital role in Spain's successful campaign. Partnering fellow Barca team-mate Andres Iniesta in the midfield, he was the fulcrum between the defence and the forward line, regularly supplying crucial assists. In the final against Germany, he slid a well-timed pass to Fernando Torres, who converted the winning goal. He is now a crucial member of the Spanish national squad and his importance to the team was summed up as he was selected as the Player of the Tournament at Euro 2008.
Xabi Alonso (2003 - )
While he is well known for his performances at Liverpool, Xabi Alonso was actually called up to the Spanish national squad for his exceptional play with Real Sociedad in 2003. Alonso was praised for his role in the Basque outfit’s success, receiving the Best Spanish Player award by Spanish sports magazine Don Balon. His performances earned him national repute as Inaki Saez, coach of the Spanish national team at the time, called him up to La Seleccion. After Alonso’s international debut, Saez praised the Basque midfielder, saying, “He has a fantastic range of accurate passing and sees football with an extraordinary clarity.” Alonso is now a mainstay in central midfield, specialising in long switches of play through his pinpoint accurate passing and long rifling shots that frequently test opposing keepers.
Marcos Senna (2006 - )
Born in Brazil, Marcos Senna was granted Spanish citizenship in early 2006, thus becoming part of the Spanish squad for the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. His performances in Spain’s title winning European Championship campaign earned him the plaudits of some pundits and journalists, who considered Senna as their player of the tournament. A solid presence on the pitch, Senna is the defensive bulldog in the Spanish midfield, pressed with the task of recovering possession and providing link-up play between the back line and the attacking midfield. The Brazilian-born Spaniard also holds a thundering shot in his boots and does not hesitate in trying his hand at a long-range effort from time to time.
Andres Iniesta (2006 - )
Iniesta won his first cap for Spain when he was brought on at half-time in a friendly against Russia and was subsequently called up to the Spanish national squad for the 2006 World Cup. Known for his mazy runs through midfield, Iniesta became a pivotal player in the Spanish midfield and along the left flank, becoming instrumental in helping Spain qualify for Euro 2008. Still very new to La Roja, Iniesta is fast becoming a match-altering player for Spain, having developed a seamless partnership with Barcelona team-mate Xavi Hernandez that will benefit both club and country for years to come (provided he can successfully ward off injury).
Fernando Torres (2003 - )
Torres made his debut for the senior Spanish national team in 2003, playing in a friendly against Portugal, and scored his first goal against Italy in 2004. Serving his country from a very young age, El Nino was selected for Euro 2004 and the 2006 FIFA World Cup (in which he scored three goals, tying David Villa for the top scorer in the Spanish squad for the tournament). Torres’ biggest goal to date with La Roja has certainly been his strike in the Euro 2008 final against Germany — a match Spain won 1-0 to take the championship.
Torres made his 60th appearance for Spain in a World Cup qualifying match against Turkey earlier this year, becoming the youngest player to reach this milestone. His contributions to the Spanish squad continue to be remarkable - in this summer’s Confederations Cup, Torres scored the fastest hat-trick ever by a Spanish player taking just 17 minutes to do so.
Raul (1996 - )
Known simply as Raul, he is likely Spain’s most prolific player in history and with 44 international goals is La Roja’s leading scorer. Earning his first senior cap in 1996, Raul has participated in three World Cups from 1998 to 2006, along with Euro 2000 and Euro 2004, scoring at least one goal in each of the three World Cup competitions and leading as captain of the team throughout. But following a shock 3-2 defeat against Northern Ireland, Luis Aragones controversially dropped Raul from the national squad, preferring David Villa and Fernando Torres instead. Raul is still available for a call up, since he has yet to formally announce his international retirement, and Vicente Del Bosque has said there is still a chance the player could again be called into the national side. But time is not on the aging legend’s side.
David Villa (2005 - )
Making his international debut in 2005, David Villa scored his first goal for La Seleccion in a World Cup qualifying match later in the year. The striker has not looked back since, scoring goals at will for La Roja, becoming so lethal in front of the net that ‘El Guaje’ managed to oust legend Raul from the Spanish national squad. Assuming the former captain’s No. 7 shirt, Villa has delivered goals by the handful for La Roja — some of them crucial in helping Spain advance through the 2006 World Cup group stages and the 2008 European Championships. Villa’s eye for goal has only gotten more keen. This past year, a consistent goal scoring rate saw Villa break the Spanish record of ten goals in one year, previously held by Raul since 1999, by scoring 12 goals. The next target in El Guaje’s sights is Raul’s record 44 international goals. Villa has 25 at the moment, but with only 49 appearances with La Roja, the mark is certainly attainable.
Salgado – Sergio Ramos - Puyol
Xavi – Xabi Alonso — Marcos Senna – Iniesta
Torres - Raul - Villa
Salgado – Sergio Ramos - Puyol
Xavi – Xabi Alonso — Marcos Senna – Iniesta
Torres - Raul - Villa
Do you agree with those who made it into the Spanish Team of the Decade 2000-2010? What would be your ideal XI? Goal.com wants to know what YOU think...
Cyrus C. Malek, Goal.com