It is often remembered that Barcelona are 'more than a club'. The famous motto rings true for a side that is the symbol of Catalunya and, in recent times, the best team around. And in 2010, the Barca backbone saw Spain seal World Cup success in South Africa. With seven of Pep Guardiola's players starting the final and scoring all eight of the team's goals en route to the trophy, it was a triumph very much made in Barcelona.
Two years on, however, it is unclear whether Barca can again provide the inspiration for Spain.
While Andres Iniesta looks to be in fantastic form going into Euro 2012, following his wonderful cameo in the 1-0 win over China on Sunday, there are doubts about the rest.
Barcelona and Spain
|3||The Barcelona players called up for Euro 2008: Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol.|
|7||Seven of the side that started the World Cup final in 2010 were on Barca's books. Seven travel to Poland and Ukraine with La Roja this time around.|
|8||All eight goals scored by Spain in South Africa were netted by Barca players (Villa five; Iniesta two; Puyol one).|
|51||The international goals scored by David Villa, who misses the Euros after failing to recover from a broken leg.|
|99||The caps won by Barca captain Carles Puyol, sidelined with a knee problem.|
Goalkeeper Victor Valdes is unlikely to get a game at the continental competition in any case, but the Barca No. 1 was somewhat slow to react to danger in key games against Real Madrid and Chelsea, which ended in defeat for the Catalans towards the end of the campaign.
In defence, meanwhile, there will be concerns over the fitness and form of Gerard Pique, who has struggled with injuries in the last 12 months, and found himself repeatedly benched by Guardiola amid rumours of excesses off the pitch and a loss of focus.
Pique made mistakes and appeared to lack concentration for Barca in 2011-12, as Guardiola often preferred to deploy midfielder Javier Mascherano in his back four. Pique also looks below his best when Puyol is missing, with his Catalan team-mate and friend constantly ensuring he is properly positioned and fully focused. On top of that, coach Vicente del Bosque has admitted the defender's relationship with prospective centre-back partner Sergio Ramos is far from perfect. The two were not on the pitch at the same time versus China - it remains to be seen whether they will be against Italy on Sunday.
One man Spain can always rely on is Xavi. The midfielder, however, is now 32 and showing small signs of slowing down following a wonderful career. The 2011-12 season saw him hit a career-high 14 goals in all competitions, with an impressive 14 assists to boot, but tiredness crept in towards the end of the campaign and fatigue at this time of year is hardly helpful to Spain.
Another midfielder who may struggle in Poland and Ukraine is Cesc Fabregas. The former Arsenal captain has just shaken off a hamstring problem and will be keen to regain the form which saw him shine earlier on in the season for Barca. The graduate from La Masia adapted to his new surroundings as if he had never left the club at all, but struggled in the second half of the term as his goals dried up and he was used in a number of different positions under Guardiola. And he is likely to be utilised similarly for Spain this summer.
Iniesta, as mentioned, looks at his peak and could play a pivotal part for La Roja once again, while another Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets is set to start for Del Bosque's side, despite doubts over his compatibility with Xabi Alonso and the need for two deep-lying midfielders in a team that will dominate possession virtually throughout.
|Off form: Pique
Further forward, Pedro will hope to continue the form which earned him a call-up in the first place. The Tenerife-born forward had looked set to miss out on a spot at Euro 2012 following an indifferent season at Barca, but his timely two-goal display in the final of the Copa del Rey saw him make the cut when the list was announced two days later. If he can recreate the form shown in that match, Del Bosque will be delighted. Any repeat of his early-season showings, however, and the decision will look less wise.
So just as Barcelona enter an uncertain era following the departure of Guardiola, so too do their Spain stars. The Barca brand was strengthened by the national side's win in Euro 2008 as Xavi and Iniesta pulled the strings, and the relationship assumed symbiotic status two years later as La Roja won the World Cup.
To beat Italy in their opening Euro clash and then go on to become the first side to win back-to-back continental crowns, plus a third major title in a row at international level, they may just have to find their inspiration from elsewhere this time around.
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