Half a year away from Russia 2018, and in light of Catalonia's independence attempt, what teams within Spain could have classified?
The bookies (people or companies who predict games for gamblers) currently put the 2010 World Cup winner’s odds at six to one. Only Brazil, Argentina and Germany are more likely to win, according to the bookies.
In the past decade, Spain has become synonymous with football dominance. From 2008 to 2012, the Spanish selection won two European Championships and a World Cup. They are the only team to win three successive titles. Between November 2006 and June 2009, they played 35 consecutive matches undefeated. Brazil is the only other team to have accomplished this feat.
La Furia Roja have not been quite as successful in the past two international tournaments, but finished this year’s World Cup Qualifying campaign atop their group. Over the course of the qualifiers, they won nine matches, drew one and lost none. They scored 36 goals in the process, while conceding only three. No team conceded fewer.
But what if the great footballing nation were to balkanize? Recent overtures for independence from Catalonia along with long-simmering independence sentiments in the Basque Country and Galicia have made this question all the more realistic.
Here’s a breakdown of the starting XI for Spain, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia if this were to happen:
*Indicates player has played for the national team in the past 12 months
Goalkeeper: David de Gea* (Manchester United, England)
Defenders: Alberto Moreno* (Liverpool, England); Sergio Ramos* (Real Madrid, Spain); Nacho* (Real Madrid); Dani Carvajal* (Real Madrid)
Midfielders: David Silva* (Manchester City, England); Andres Iniesta* (Barcelona, Spain); Isco* (Real Madrid); Marco Asensio* (Real Madrid)
Strikers: Alvaro Morata* (Chelsea, England); Diego Costa* (Chelsea)
Even a broken-up Spain would be a formidable opponent for any top team. Eight of these players were called up for Spain’s last two matches. Four of them combined to score six of the eight goals that Spain tallied in those matches. All of the starting XI have been called up for Spain in the past year.
While this selection is missing some key players, three are in the top six for all time national team appearances with Spain. There is an abundance of experience, which is never a bad thing in international tournaments. Sergio Ramos is Spain’s second all-time most capped player, while David Silva is the fourth all-time top scorer.
To complement the experience, the team also has some rising stars. Marco Asensio is only 21, but has already won the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid and a UEFA European Under-19 Championship with Spain. Isco and Alvaro Morata are both 25 and have also won various Champions League and European Youth Championships.
While this new Spanish team may not be six to one favorites without some of their veterans, the squad would still likely go well past the group stages of the 2018 World cup.
Goalkeeper: Kiko Casilla (Real Madrid)
Defenders: Jordi Alba* (Barcelona); Gerard Pique* (Barcelona); Marc Bartra* (Borussia Dortmund, Germany); Aleix Vidal (Barcelona)
Midfielders: Sergi Roberto (Barcelona); Sergio Busquets* (Barcelona); Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea); Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona)
Strikers: Cristian Tello (Real Betis, Spain); Bojan Krkic (Deportivo Alaves, Spain)
If Catalonia were to leave the rest of Spain, they would not be too poorly off in the footballing department. All of the key players that the previous Spanish team would miss dearly are in this squad.
Among their rank and file are many brilliant talents. This starting XI boasts three World Cup winners. Four of the 11 have been called up for Spain in the past year. In the last brace of international matches, Jordi Alba scored the first goal in both games inside of 10 minutes.
Gerard Pique would likely captain the side. Along with being formally recognized as one of the best defenders in the world, he is also the definition of a winner. His trophy cabinet includes 30 pieces of silverware, including a World Cup and European Championship trophy, four Champions League titles, and seven league titles.
Unlike many star studded teams where a lack of chemistry can undermine team performances, this Catalonian squad would be in a pretty unique position. Ten of the starting XI have all played for Barcelona (Kiko Casilla is the odd man out). They are all used to Barcelona’s famous tiki taka style of play, which emphasizes possession and short passes to work the ball up the field. Hire an ex-Barcelona coach to manage this team and Catalonia would already have a tested strategy that wins matches.
In terms of 2018 in Russia, Catalonia might have qualified, depending on the group. Were they to be plopped into the group stages in Russia, they would have a fighting chance of making it out. However, they would be far from favorites to make it into the latter stages of the tournament.
The Basque Country
Goalkeeper: Oier Olazabal (Levante, Spain)
Defenders: Nacho Monreal* (Arsenal, England); Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao, Spain); Javi Martinez* (Bayern Munich, Germany); César Azpilicueta* (Chelsea)
Midfielders: Oscar de Marcos (Athletic Bilbao); Asier Illarramendi* (Real Sociedad, Spain); Ander Herrera* (Manchester United); Xabi Prieto (Real Sociedad)
Strikers: Aritz Arduriz* (Athletic Bilbao); Fernando Llorente (Tottenham Hotspur, England)
The Basque Country team selection is not quite as impressive as that of Spain or Catalonia and probably would not qualify for the World Cup, though might have a shot at qualifying for the European Championships.
However, putting things into perspective this would be a pretty good squad. The Basque Country has an estimated population of about three million people. That is fewer people than Armenia, but slightly more than Lithuania. In terms of football, there would be no comparison among the three. In fact, this Basque Country squad would likely topple some much larger European teams. Six of the starting XI have played for Spain in the past year and all of the players have experience in the upper echelons of football.
Five of the starting XI have won either the Champions League or Europa League. Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez were both part of Spain’s 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship winning teams. Had the Basque Country been placed in any of the nine World Cup Qualification groups they quite possibly could have finished third or fourth in any of them.
Goalkeeper: Sergio Conde (Celta de Vigo, Spain)
Defenders: Angeliño (NAC Breda, Holland); Diego Alende (Celta de Vigo); Álex Bergantiños (Sporting Gijon, Spain); Jonny (Celta de Vigo)
Midfielders: Iago Falque (Torino, Italy); Pedro Mosquera (Deportivo La Coruña, Spain); Denis Suarez (Barcelona); Lucas Vazquez* (Real Madrid)
Strikers: Iago Aspas* (Celta de Vigo); Lucas Perez (Deportivo La Coruña)
Of the four balkanized countries, Galicia would be the worst off in the footballing department. They would probably not qualify for the World Cup or European Championship. Like the Basque Country, Galicia has a very modest population (2.75 million) and could also punch above its weight among European competitors, though to a much lesser extent. However, with several promising young talents, there would be reason to be optimistic for the future.
Both Denis Suarez and Lucas Vazquez are rising stars for Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively. Both have already been called up to play for Spain and are also no strangers to winning European silverware. Meanwhile, Manchester City are closely watching Angeliño’s development in the Dutch topflight. While they would be far from the worst footballing nation in Europe, Galicia would be unlikely to again enjoy the success of the last decade that it did as a part of Spain. At least for now.
Latin American Post | Daniel Dawson
Copy edited by Laura Rocha Rueda