Four-and-a-half decades is a long time for a major footballing nation to go without a trophy. Such was the millstone Spain carried round their necks until the burden was finally lifted at UEFA EURO 2008. The debate about whether the psychological baggage that came with this barren spell contributed to their repeated failures can at last be put to rest, with La Furia Roja about to turn over an exciting new page in their history.
The new coach of La Selección, Vicente del Bosque, will make his competitive debut on Saturday 6 September, when they kick off their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying campaign at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Then, four days later, Spain host Armenia on Matchday 2, a tie which, along with their opener, would appear to be among their less-taxing fixtures in a Group 5 also containing Estonia, Belgium and, perhaps their toughest rival, Turkey.
Spain's European crown, far from being an additional burden for the young squad to bear, should serve as inspiration and reinforce the self-belief of a group of players accustomed to success at club level but previously weighed down by their history of unfulfilled potential at international level. Now, though, with the infamous quarter-final curse a thing of the past, all the psychological barriers to success have been removed.
The success enjoyed abroad by youngsters like Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas has removed any sense of inferiority that might once have been felt by Spanish internationals, previously unaccustomed to playing outside their homeland, when facing more decorated opposition.
The decisive and brave goalkeeping of captain Iker Casillas, the hunger for victory and indefatigability of striker David Villa, and the freshness and vision of midfielder David Silva have helped imbue the side with a winning mentality and sense of fearlessness. This spirit has permeated deep into the psyche of the squad, who now believe unquestionably in their collective capabilities.
Del Bosque knows he is taking up the reins at a propitious time, given the confidence of his multi-talented group. That said, the coach is wary about one possible scenario. ". But I have confidence in their good sense and am sure we won't fall into that trap."
A light touch
"We enjoyed a very good period with Luis Aragones, with whom we felt a close bond," said Casillas after the new incumbent was appointed. "Everyone could see the understanding that existed between the players and coach, and we'll be trying to replicate that with our new gaffer. With each passing game, hopefully that connection can be equal to or better than the one we had, as Spain will be the beneficiary. We also hope Vicente can emulate what he achieved at Real Madrid with the national team."
The new man at the helm is a completely different character to his predecessor. While Luis Aragones was impulsive, animated and sometimes exaggerated in his gestures, Del Bosque is calm and circumspect.
However, the former Real Madrid coach is well aware that Aragones found the key to unlocking the Spain's best through maximising their technical strengths and minimising the impact of their physical shortcomings. "In almost every sense, Spain is at the top of its game. But football is constantly evolving and we need to continue exploiting the things we've been doing well," the new coach said after his appointment.
In his first game in charge, a friendly last month against Denmark, the squad changes were for the most part forced on him by injuries, the loss of Carlos Marchena and Cesc Fabregas being two obvious examples. Yet despite this, the team slipped automatically through the gears and put on another fine display of pass-and-move football.
"We'll be trying to maintain the standards achieved with the last coach, and add our own touches and the benefit of our experience. ," promised Del Bosque.
The coach proved as good as his word in naming his squad for Spain's opening South Africa 2010 qualifier, calling up Athletic Bilbao's defender Andoni Iraola, Sevilla midfielder Diego Capel and Barça prodigy Bojan, in for the injured Fernando Torres. Apart from this injection of young blood, everything else, from the spirit of the team to their formation, would appear to be intact.
The upcoming qualifying campaign should be the ideal testing ground to work on preparing the team for even greater challenges, two of which involve South Africa. The FIFA World Cup there in 2010 will most definitely be top of their agenda, but before that the European champions will have another chance to win a major trophy at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009. Happy days indeed for Spanish football.