Catalonia. Euskadi. Spain? Just how would Spain’s autonomous regions — there are 17 of them — represent themselves politically through football if the rest had to be called Spanish? The problem has not, until now, reared its head among the players as all of Spain plays for the national team known as La Furia Roja or the red fury.
But what if?
Some of Spain’s most decorated footballers belong to two regions who have been pushing for national status while playing in the Spanish league, much like Welsh clubs do in the EPL while still representing Wales nationally. Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Valdes, Fabregas, Busquets and a host of others are eligible to play for the Catalan national team while Martinez, Azpilicueta and Xabi Alonso, among others, are eligible to play for the Basque national team.
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In all, these teams would not find it difficult to form a national team while leaving the current holders seriously weakened. Even so, Spain face no threat as FIFA has no plans to take up the matter as of now. Even the players see it from the same viewpoint.
As Xavi told the press: “People ask us, ‘Who would you play for if there was a Catalan international team?’ I always say: ‘The option doesn’t exist now, so I can’t make that choice. I like playing in these friendlies, but the reality is if I want to play in Euros and World Cups I have to do so with Spain.’”
Should the nationality debate stir up and FIFA accept their claims, the biggest threat for Spain will not come from others but from within. Either Catalonia or Euskadi, if they line up full strength, as they do each Christmas in a one-off annual match, will severely test Spain’s weakened squad if not defeat them comprehensively.
AN EXHAUSTED BUNCH
The second and more insidious threat — due to its currency at this World Cup — is the mental and physical state of its players. Some are teetering on the edge of exhaustion while others are reeling from the effects of a season in which they did not win anything despite being within touching distance.
Champions must overcome the odds, you say? Here are what these players are up against.
Atletico Madrid, the champions of Spain, and Real Madrid, the champions of Europe, have played 61 matches each. Their season ended on May 24 after an exhausting 120 minutes of their Champions League final.
Atletico’s statistics are staggering. They have played 61 matches shared between 25 players. Taking only La Liga and the Champions League into account, of four Atletico players in the squad, David Villa has the least appearances with 43 and Koke the most with 49.
Real Madrid’s players are coming off a victorious final and an overwhelming sense of achievement. One wonders how the players who are coming off such a high will motivate themselves for the big cup. Though Real have played an equal number of matches as Atletico, their large squad coped better.
Del Bosque will be losing some sleep and, hopefully, less hair the state of the fulcrum of his midfield, formed by Barcelona’s Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. Fresh off their first trophy-less season in six years, the players, who fill three of the five midfield positions, were mentally devastated. “I feel so bad, I just feel disappointment and disillusionment,” Iniesta said. “The season has ended and so have a lot of things.”
Iniesta was devastated as close friend Victor Valdes, who was a given in the squad, suffered a season-ending injury in March while Barcelona’s previous coach Tito Vilanova died of cancer. Add to the mix a season of underachievement and that is a potent brew for a serial-winner to digest.
After a season of contrasts among the players, primarily gleaned from the top three clubs in Spain, del Bosque, a great motivator, has quite a job on his hands.
FIFA Ranking: 1
Betting Ranking: 4
ELO Ranking: 2
Coach: Vicente Del Bosque
Star Players: Gerard Pique, David Villa, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Fernando Torres