Why Spain Won't Even Get Out Of Their Euro 2012 Group


Bear with me while I take you on a brief history lesson: The year is 2002, the setting is somewhere in Japan, and a bewildered group of travelling Frenchmen look into each others face paint and start to feel pretty silly.

Their team, the defending world and European champions, has just been upended, disrobed, degraded, and kicked out of the World Cup with a few bank notes stuffed down their bra, by three teams who calls they wouldn't even normally answer.

Fast forward 10 years, and I fear something very similar could be about to happen... to the Spanish.

Close that jaw of yours sonny, suspend your disbelief, and at least wait until the end of the article before rushing to tell me what a prick I am on Twitter. I know they have some of the greatest players to grace the modern game, but the problem is, simply, that international football is such a tighter affair than we're used to seeing at club level. The outcomes balance even more on a team’s ability to create a single spark of magic, or indeed snuff it out with a merciless, steel-tipped boot.

Case in point, look at Spain's route to the World Cup final two years ago: Switzerland, Honduras, Chile, Portugal, Paraguay, Germany, Holland. In these seven games, only the Hondurans were beaten by more than one goal, the Swiss famously bloodied Spanish noses in the opening match, and even Chile, reduced to ten men after half an hour, were still chasing an equaliser when the final whistle went. The knockout ties in particular, all finished 1-0, and all took at least an hour to break the deadlock. International games, in the modern age, are tighter than grasshoppers hamstring in a sandstorm, or somesuch.

I'm not advocating a case that the teams with the best reputation players will always prosper (I mean CHRIST look at Greece in 2004, that was like watching a team of your dad's mates gatecrash a dance competition and kick everyone to death) but rather that well-drilled sides, with systems that suit their players, and allow for discipline and expression in equal measure, will stand a far better chance than those without.

David Villa's ability to coast inside a full back the same way those lads from One Direction coast inside first year fashion students more or less won Spain the last World Cup. Combine that with Carles Puyol spending another two years perfecting the art of waving a massive curly sword with one hand, and holding onto Pique's leash with the other, and they were still probably going to be the most dangerous side in the tournament this summer.

Now though, the closest either of them are likely to come to any Polish action, is if the Missus hands them a can of Pledge and points menacingly at the dust sitting on top of the telly. I can muster no equivalent joke for the Ukraine, I’m afraid.

Their likely replacements don't inspire huge confidence either. Villa either has a straight swap with Fernando Torres, who despite scoring a clutch of confidence-boosting goals in the last few weeks still looks about as self-assured as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, or Fernando Llorente, a man less “peacock's quill” more “whatever that bird was who punched Fred Flinstone's timecard”.

Add to this that they'll likely shift Sergio Ramos into the centre to compensate for Puyol's absence. The footballing equivalent of moving your coffee tin next to the salt because you've run out of pepper. Then throw in the serious fatigue visible on the facial lines of senors Fabregas, Silva, and Alonso, as well as the rumours about Xavi now being so hampered by niggling injuries that 80% of his body is patched up with Lego bricks laced with Deep Heat, and you have to worry for the defending Champions.

What's worse, awaiting them is an Italian team who conceded a buttock-clenching two goals in qualifying, a snarling, biting, gnashing mob of Croations (and Luka Modric), and an Ireland team who are still morally obligated to handle the ball if there's even the slightest chance they can get a match-winning goal out of it. That's like the Crystal Maze of tough group stages, and you can get them at a mouth-watering 6.50 to be eliminated from it.