Juande Ramos: Spain don't start with Fabregas for a simple reason: with a squad this good, they'll win without him
The Spanish Angle: I cannot remember a better Spain squad in my lifetime. They are very used to playing with each other and that gives them a big advantage
Wednesday 16 June 2010
The talk at every World Cup centres on the question: which player will be the star of the tournament? But maybe the star in South Africa will not be a player but a team – Spain.
We have had to wait until last to start our campaign but now the time has come and there is perhaps more excitement and expectation in the country than before any previous World Cup. We have probably not been this optimistic since 1982, when there was a similar sort of confidence, but that was based more on the fact that we were the home nation rather than anything to do with the team. This is a much better side.
In 1982, we knew we would enjoy all the advantages of the host nation but this time the excitement is generated by the excellent group of players that we have. I cannot remember a better squad representing Spain in my lifetime.
It is true that players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are superb individuals, and Spain also has some great individual players such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Silva, but it is the sum that is greater than the parts and it is the team that gives us cause for so much optimism.
It is very similar to the group that won the European Championship in 2008. All the key players are the same – Iker Casillas, Xavi and Iniesta. They are very used to playing with each other and that gives them a big advantage going into this tournament.
Maybe the only real change is that there are now even more options for the coach. The Seville winger Jesus Navas and the Athletic Bilbao centre-forward Fernando Llorente have come in and they enable the team to vary the way they play, if necessary.
Navas is a player I had at Seville and he gives the team something different. We have wide players, such as Iniesta and David Silva, who are excellent at coming inside with the ball but Navas is a dynamic player who can go on the outside.
With Llorente, who is very good in the air, and the speed of Navas, we also have the long ball option if we need it.
Against Switzerland today, I imagine it will be Casillas in goal with Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Joan Capdevila at the back. Sergio Busquets will probably anchor the midfield with Xabi Alonso and Xavi, and Iniesta and Silva will support David Villa in attack.
You cannot call it a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1 because the players are all intelligent enough to be able to change positions, and so change the shape of the team during the game. I don't imagine that Fernando Torres will start the first match. He is coming back from a long injury and there is no need to rush him. He needs to build up his fitness, and if we are comfortable in games then he will come on and get some minutes so that he is 100 per cent fit for the latter stages of the tournament.
I know some English fans cannot understand why Cesc Fabregas does not get a start for Spain but maybe that is just because they see him every week and they don't see so much of Silva, Iniesta and Alonso.
All these players are playing at a very high level and it is not that Fabregas is inferior, it is just the continuation of the team that won the European Championship two years ago. Fabregas will play his part just as he did in Austria and Switzerland.
He just happens to be part of a special generation of players and there are so many options for the coach that it is inevitable that very good players will be left out of some games.
I have seen the comments made about England's Premier League being flooded with foreign stars but we also have players from abroad playing in Spain so I am not sure that it is so important. We have some great foreign players but we also have lots of very good Spanish players. Overseas players are not such an important factor because these things go in cycles and sometimes you just happen to get a fantastic group of individuals that come through at the same time.
We had it in the 1980s with what we called "La Quinta del Buitre" when five very good Spanish players came through Real Madrid's youth team at the same time. Then it was Emilio Butragueno, Manolo Sanchis, Martin Vazquez, Michel and Miguel Pardeza, now it is Xavi, Iniesta and company.
You always have one or two good players but every now and then you have five or six and that makes the difference, but it is not something you can programme. A lot of teams in Spain have superb youth set-ups but that is also the case at many English clubs.
And there are very good players in England's current crop. I am still confident that England will qualify. The goal they conceded against the United States was unfortunate and I thought it gave the US extra strength to play out the second half and not concede again.
England would probably have worn them down but that bit of luck seemed to lift the opposition. England have enough quality to come out of the group and progress.
England's flying full backs can bring element of surprise
When I coached Seville, we played with very attacking full-backs in Dani Alves and Adriano and England have two magnificent players in those positions in Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson. They will both be very important in the next two games, when you are up against sides who will probably defend in numbers. That element of surprise that an attacking full-back brings – arriving from deep – can be exactly what unlocks a team playing with a lot of men behind the ball.
Ozil brings magic touch to German midfield
I enjoyed watching Mesut Ozil, the Werder Bremen midfielder. He lit up Germany's match against Australia and could be one of the players of the tournament. He has that special ability to get on the ball in that space between the opposition's midfield and defence. That kind of magic is exactly what we want to see at the World Cup.
What's the problem with the vuvuzelas?
The atmosphere from the African fans has been the best part of the tournament up until now. The colour and the noise has been superb. I don't have a problem with the vuvuzelas and I just hope that some African teams qualify for the knockout rounds so that we don't lose that fantastic atmosphere.
Lesser teams are dragging down the better ones
The standard of football from many of the teams has been too low for a World Cup finals. You cannot just blame the fear of losing the first game because if you play badly in the first match then it can affect the rest of your tournament. I suppose it is logical that if you are drawing teams from all over the world then you are going to have some who lower the standard. We saw how much better Germany were than Australia, for example.
A whole new ball game
Of course it makes sense to practise with the ball before the tournament. I don't know this particular ball so I cannot say how different it is or isn't to normal balls, but it is always good to use it beforehand. The teams who have played matches with it before will certainly have an advantage over the teams who have not.
Juande Ramos has coached extensively throughout Spain, including at Barcelona and Real Madrid
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