Saturday 07 October 2017, 18:25

Spain: Blending the new with the old

  • La Roja will participate at their 11th consecutive World Cup

  • Spain sealed qualification for Russia 2018 with a game to spare in Group G

  • Coach Julen Lopetegui the man behind Spain's good form** **

Spain rubberstamped their much-awaited ticket to Russia on the penultimate matchday of European zone qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™.

La Roja's record of eight wins and a draw from nine matches were enough to win Group G and seal a place at what will be their 15th finals. They will travel there under the guidance of head coach Julen Lopetegui, who, after replacing Vicente del Bosque at the helm, has managed to keep the essence of what made Spain successful while implementing new ideas. shines the spotlight on the keys to Spain's qualification:

The Lopetegui factor: Continuity Spain's disappointing showings at Brazil 2014 and UEFA EURO 2016, combined with the departure of Del Bosque after seven years in charge, gave rise to a debate: should they try to play with a different style? Lopetegui, who knows the country's youngsters well after several years working as a national team coach at youth level, persevered with the system of quick passing and keeping possession that was not only one of the underlying factors behind the triumphant golden era of La Roja, but also drove the continued success of the youth teams.

Renewal A period of transition ensued in the wake of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and Lopetegui has now overseen its completion. Younger players like Koke, Alvaro Morata, Thiago Alcantara and Isco have stepped up and their roles in the side are now just as important as those of veterans, led by Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta.

Bravery Throughout the course of the qualifying campaign, Lopetegui has demonstrated that he does not shy away from making big decisions. In the crucial encounter with Italy he changed tactics and opted to dispense with an out-and-out striker for the first time. The gamble paid off as Spain earned a 3-0 win in a game in which he handed a start to youngster Marco Asensio. Lopetegui repeated the strategy of fielding youngsters by selecting Saul Niguez and debutant Alvaro Odriozola in the 3-0 triumph over Albania that put the seal on qualification.

Meritocracy Since taking over in September 2016, Lopetegui has called up 44 different players to his squads, giving debuts to five of them: Iago Aspas, Asier Illarramendi, Ander Herrera, Saul and Odriozola. By including veterans that had been out of contention for some time, such as Pepe Reina and David Villa, he showed that the door to the national team is always open to anyone.

**Players past and present

Mr Indispensible, David Silva **The Manchester City midfielder is the only player Lopetegui has used in all 13 games he has taken charge of to date. Still in his prime, Silva is one of the few remaining representatives of the Spain team that won the 2014 World Cup and back-to-back European titles. A cornerstone of the midfield, the Canary Islander orchestrates the play, can beat his marker and has contributed five goals in Russia 2018 qualifying.

Gambling on Isco Lopetegui backed the Malaga native even when he was not a regular starter at Real Madrid and the central midfielder has repaid that faith: Isco has scored five goals in qualifying so far and was outstanding against Italy, while he has deservedly developed into one of the team's leaders.

Did you know…? Spain are unbeaten in World Cup qualifying since losing to Denmark on 31 March 1993. That run has now stretched to 62 games without defeat, comprising 49 wins and 13 draws. En route to Russia they have scored 35 goals in nine games, conceding just three.