Spain World Cup squad: Julen Lopetegui's team is as strong as they come and blessed with versatility
Julen Lopetegui's job at Spain was never going to be about reinventing the wheel, it was always a case of just getting it spinning again with the smoothness and speed to which Spanish football has become accustomed.
After the humiliating failure of 2014, the Spanish FA (RFEF) took the decision to keep Vicente del Bosque that was based more on sentiment and respect than the realities of modern football. Lopetegui, ultimately his successor in 2016, is Spanish football's modern man.
"Every time we pick a squad we commit an injustice," he told The Guardian's Sid Lowe in that first year of his reign, a feeling that most international managers are familiar with on one hand but, on the other, stare in awe at the list of players available to the man charged with returning Spain to the summit of world football.
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Spain announce 23-man World Cup squad as big names miss out
Ahead of Russia, his 23 has a familiar feel. There are the familiar names, legends of the sport scattered among a glut of ball-playing midfielders as well as a handful of names that might not be immediately recognisable to those who don't consume La Liga every week. But always more striking is those who don't make it, and the raft of talent that simply can't be folded or otherwise squeezed into the squad.
"I could have given a long list of players who have helped us who couldn't be in. [Alvaro] Morata, [Asier] Illarramendi, [Marc] Bartra..." Lopetegui said at Spain's headquarters in Las Rozas on Monday morning. Morata is the headline absence in Madrid because of his links to the country's biggest club and th e fact that 12 months ago he was about to move clubs for Â£54m. It has been something of a disappointment to everyone in Spain that Morata's first season with Chelsea played out as it did, but even if one of Iago Aspas, Rodrigo or Diego Costa were suddenly injured and couldn't go to the World Cup, it's hard to argue that Morata would go ahead of someone like Espanyol's Gerard Moreno, who has had a far better campaign.
World Cup 2018 official kits
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World Cup 2018 official kits
1/51 World Cup 2018 kits
The kits for the 2018 World Cup have started to be released ... but which one is your favourite?
2/51 Russia home
They say: A clean design in red and white, inspired by the 1988 USSR jersey.
Our verdict: Literally cannot muster up the enthusiasm to write anymore words about this snorefest.
3/51 Russia away
They say: A smart strip in white and blue with subtle geometric pattern.
Our verdict: Now thatâs more like it! Big mistake not making this the home kit in our ever so humble opinion.
4/51 Saudi Arabia home and away
Both home and away kits yet to be released. Will be supplied by Nike. Will probably feature a bit of green.
5/51 Egypt home
They say: A âsleek and modernâ kit with sublimated check pattern on the front and white Adidas strips down the sides.
Our verdict: Decent. Would make a nice Manchester United kit.
6/51 Uruguay home
They say: A clean design in âsilver lake blueâ, with an âengineered jacquard graphicâ in the middle of the jersey.
Our verdict: Whatâs Spanish for âhorrific v neckâ?
7/51 Portugal home
They say: The red base from Portugalâs Euro 2016 triumph is retained, with Nike introducing âgold-metallic trimâ and a green collar.
Our verdict: Yup, itâs a template. But that doesnât stop it from looking smart.
8/51 Portugal away
They say: An all-white design inspired by the countryâs naval history.
Our verdict: Cleaner than Kim Woodburnâs kitchen. Lovely stuff.
9/51 Spain home
They say: Made by Adid as and inspired by the classic 1994 home strip.
Our verdict: GET IT ON MY TORSO NOW.
10/51 Spain away
They say: Another 1980s inspired kit. âHalo blueâ with bright orange trim.
Our verdict: Itâs â¦ okay. Not a patch on that smashing home effort, mind.
11/51 Morocco home and away
Both kits, to be produced by Adidas, are yet to be released.
12/51 Iran home and away
Same again â" to be produced by Adidas but yet to be releas ed. Hurry up lads!
13/51 France home
They say: A traditional look with blue jersey, white shorts and red socks.
Our verdict: Another template. Another sexy kit. Damn you, Nike!
14/51 France away
They say: White shirt, blue sleeves and white socks â" with a distinct graphic print.
Our verdict: Why couldnât Nike have given this to England?! As smooth as Zinedine Zidaneâs shiny bald head.
15/51 Australia home and away
Move al ong, nothing to see here. Nikeâs Aussie kits are yet to be released.
16/51 Peru home
They say: The last ever Umbro kit for the country â" Marathon Sports take over next year.
Our verdict: You donât get more traditional than this. A proper football kit for proper football men. You can shove your xG up your a***, etc.
17/51 Denmark home and away
Yet to be released. But theyâre to be manufactured by Hummel. So theyâre bound to be good.
18/51 Argentina home
They say: A classic effort that draws inspiration from the 1993 Copa America strip, coincidentally the last time Argentina won a major title.
Our verdict: A stylish strip befitting of little Leo Messi. Top drawer.
19/51 Argentina away
They say: Black jerseys with neat white and blue trim, white shorts, black socks.
Our verdict: Woof. Coming to a five-a-side court near you very soon.
20/51 Iceland home
They say: An Errea produced kit which incorporates the traditional home colours of blue, red and white.
Our verdict: Nice, if a little bit bargain basement.
21/51 Iceland away
They say: The reverse of the home shirt.
Our verdict: Yes, we can confirm that this is the exact reverse of the home shirt.
22/51 Croatia home
They say: Nike offer a new interpretation of the teamâs iconic checker design, with much larger checks than usual.
Our verdict: Will look great on Luka Modric if he can keep himself out of prison long enough to wear it.
23/51 Croatia away
They say: The same template as the home shirt, but with a black an d dark blue colour scheme.
Our verdict: Very, very nice. A slightly gothic interpretation of the home shirt we all know and love. The football kit equivalent of Late Night Hollyoaks.
24/51 Nigeria home
They say: An eclectic combination of bright green, white and black in an especially bold design.
Our verdict: Outstanding. Sensational. Sublime. The nicest kit at this yearâs World Cup and destined to be worn at Boiler Room sessions from now until 2046.
25/51 Nigeria away
They say: A clean design in dark green with subtle zigzag print.
Our verdict: Oh dear, clearly Nike used all their budget on the home shirt. About as e xciting as a Songs of Praise marathon.
They say: A traditional effort with subtle zigzag pattern.
Our verdict: Why change a winning formula? Bright, bold and very much Brazil.
27/51 Brazil away
They say: Based on the same design as the home shirt. Royal blue with a unique star pattern covering the front.
Our verdict: Yeah, fine, okay.
28/51 Switzerland home and away
Not released yet, soz.
29/51 Costa Rica home and away
The bad news: the kits havenât been released yet. The good news: theyâre being made by New Balance, so will be peng.
30/51 Serbia away
They say: White with red trim, with the nationâs flag running down the centre.
Our verdict: Very difficult to criticise. But we'll have a go: the collar is a bit naff. Other than that, no complaints. Now be on your way, Serbia away.
31/51 Germany home
They say: White, black and inspired by the iconic 1990 strip. Our verdict: Youâve already seen this, and you already love it. If only it featured the colours of the German flag, thoughâ¦
32/51 Germany away
They say: The first green German jersey since Euro 2012, inspired by the 1994 away effort.
Our verdict: It's Adidas. It's green. It's great. Let me wear you, Germany away.
33/51 Mexico home
They say: Manufactured by Adidas, featuring the countryâs traditional green colour with white applications.
Our verdict: Yum.
34/51 Mexico away
They say: Draws inspiration from Mexicoâs kits of the 1950s. White with a green, white and red chest stripe.
Our verdict: Looks a bit like something Roger Federer would wear to win the Australian Open. And weâre very much okay with that.
35/51 Sweden home
They say: The traditional yellow and blue, with a subtle jacquard pattern on the front.
Our verdict: Nothing to write home about, to be honest. Unless youâre writing the solitary word âBORINGâ, that is.
36/51 Sweden away
They say: Adidas claim the away kit features âa sleek desig n in blue and yellowâ.
Our verdict: That subtle pattern is very nice. One of the better âplain Janeâ kits to be worn in Russia.
37/51 South Korea home
They say: A classic red design with dark blue shorts and red socks.
Our verdict: Boring. Plain. Routine. Run-of-the-mill. Humdrum, Dreary. Banal. Unoriginal. Spiritless. Insipid. Etc.
38/51 South Korea away
They say: Predominantly white, with a bold blue and red graphic print subtly inspired by a tiger pattern and the Taegeuk symbol.
Our verdict: Much better, although it does look a bit like a crayon wielding toddler has been let loose on the new Eng land shirt. Which nevertheless remains a huge improvement.
39/51 Belgium home
They say: A bold design that takes inspiration from the iconic 1984 top.
Our verdict: Cracking. Atones for those atrocious Burrda efforts theyâve been palmed off with at the last few tournaments.
40/51 Belgium away
They say: Yellow and black with a slight all-over graphic print.
Our verdict: Yet another sublime Adidas away kit. *Wolfwhistles*
41/51 Panama home and away
Yet to be released.
42/51 Tunisia home
They say: White with red crew-neck collar and cuffs, and a dotted gradient graphic.
Our verdict: If this football shirt was a British sporting personality, it would be Steve Davis.
43/51 Tunisia away
They say: The Tunisia 2018 World Cup away shirt is red with white details.
Our verdict: If this football shirt was a British sporting personality, it would be Steve Davis.
44/51 England home
They say: Manufactured by Nike, with a white base with blue for logos and a modern knit pattern on the front.
Our verdict: About as inspiring as Iain Duncan Smith. This country really is going to the dogs.
45/51 England away
They say: Red all over with a subtle St Georgeâs Cross motif across the front.
Our verdict: Itâs red. It has a bit of a pattern thing going on across the front. Weâve already forgotten about it. Next.
46/51 Poland home and away
To be made by Nike, but yet to be released.
47/51 Senegal home and away
To be made by Puma, but yet to be released. IT'S TOO LATE FOR OUR POLL NOW, SENEGAL.
48/51 Colombia home
They say: Produced by Adidas with a traditional colour scheme, inspired by the iconic home shirts worn in the 1970s and 80s.
Our verdict: Yessssssss. If itâs good enough for James Rodriguez itâs good enough for us.
49/51 Colombia away
They say: Predominantly royal blue, with bright orange trim and a jazzy pattern down one side of the shirt.
Our verdict: Very solid. Colombia right up there with Germany for the best pair of shirts in the business.
50/51 Japan home
They say: According to Adidas: âthe shirtâs bespoke look and graphic takes inspiration from traditional samurai armourâ.
Our verdict: Really lovely kit. Deserves better than the inevitable group stage exit.
51/51 Japan away
They say: An understated all-white kit with subtle grey trim.
Our verdict: Adidas deliver a top-draw kit yet again. A lovely way to round off the gallery. Thanks for reading!
In reality, Marc Bartra's name is one that is most shocking by its absence. The former Barcelona and Dortmund central defender has been brilliant in a resurgent Real Betis side this season. He is someone that has overcome great personal strife to perform at a high level and, considering Spain's weakness at centre-back, he seemed an obvious pick.
Instead, Lopetegui has opted for versatility in his squad and that explains most of the question marks in defence. Cesar Azpilicueta is selected ahead of Sergi Roberto and company because he can also play as a central defender and has done at the highest level. Nacho Monreal, perhaps the biggest surprise inclusion, has also shown a new solidity in playing centrally as well as on the left. This figures as the main reasoning for his inclusion ahead of Marcos Alonso, who is a technically superior player but inarguably more one-dimensional. Nacho, of Real Madrid, has a lot of experience as a plug-and-play piece across the Bernabeu club's back four and that wi ll also be his role in Russia.
Spain do lack depth at centre-back in terms of specialists, but should Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique stay fit they are well set in defence. It is in front of them where the biggest injury concern should lie, with Sergio Busquets having no obvious alternative should something happen. Javi Martinez's absence leaves the already fairly unique Busquets skill set on an island in this squad. But injuries are clearly not at the forefront of a coach's mind when picking 23 players for a tournament and the rest of the midfield is a stellar list of names. "Busquets is an important player and we know it," Lopetegui said, underplaying things somewhat. Without him, this team simply wouldn't be the same.
There's such a wealth of midfield talent ahead of Busquets - David Silva, Koke, Isco, Andres Iniesta, Saul - that you don't notice the players missing but for Cesc Fabregas, this likely represents the end of his i nternational career. Indeed, as many as 10 of this 23 may not be in contention for the next World Cup. For a coach who was promoted from the Under-21s (via Porto) this is a squad with a lot of players heading towards the end of their careers.
Up front has been Spain's biggest issue in recent years, trying to find someone who can finish all those chances being carved out by the artisans in the centre of the park. At different times Morata, Paco Alcacer, Aritz Aduriz, Diego Costa, Rodrigo, Iago Aspas, David Villa and even no striker have been used. Who will start there against Portugal in Sochi on 15 July remains up in the air with Rodrigo perhaps more likely to play off the flank when he gets his chance. Aspas has had a better season than Diego Costa but the Atletico Madrid man should be fresher after sitting out the first half of 2017/18 and profiles better as a line-leading centre-forward. He is yet to truly, consistently click as Spain's number 9 but if he does t hen you could easily make a case that Spain are suddenly favourites for the whole shebang.
"I believe that over and above the names in the squad, the important thing is that the team pulls together behind the players that are in the eleven," Lopetegui concluded at the end of his press conference. Spain, as ever, will have one of the strongest first XIs and squads at the competition. The devil now is in the detail.
Spain's 23-man World Cup squad: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Dani Carvalhal (Real Madrid), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), David de Gea (Manchester United), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Isco (Real Madrid), Kepa (Athletic Bilbao), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Nacho (Real Madrid), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Re al Madrid), Jose Reina (Napoli), Rodrigo (Valencia), David Silva (Manchester City), Thiago (Bayern Munich), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid).
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