Spain

España / Spain

  • Capital: Madrid
  • Official Languages: Spanish
  • Regional Official Languages: Basque, Catalan, Galician, Occitan
  • Nicknames: La Roja (The Red One); La Furia Roja (The Red Fury)
  • Association: Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF)
  • FIFA Code: ESP

Records

  • Best World Cup Result (Men): WINNERS (2010)
  • Best World Cup Result (Women): Round of 16 (2019)
  • Best Euros Result (Men): WINNERS (1964, 2008 & 2012)
  • Best Euros Result (Women): Semi Finals (1997)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 1ST (Various)
  • Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 12th (March-December 2018)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 25th (March 1998)
  • Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 21st (June-August 2004, March 2008)
  • Most Capped Player: Sergio Ramos – 180 caps [as of June 2021]
  • Top Scorer: David Villa – 59 goals

The Kingdom of Spain (Reino de España) is one of the powerhouses of European and international football, with the country producing many of the game’s greatest players, and having one of the strongest and best-supported leagues within world football – La Liga. Situated in southwestern Europe, the kingdom shares the Iberian peninsula with Portugal to its west, and Gibraltar to its south, whilst sharing the Pyrenees mountain range between France and Andorra to its northeast. The country also has enclaves on the African mainland (Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera) resulting in a land border with CAF member Morocco. Like its northern neighbour, it too has a coast on both the Mediterrenean Sea along its eastern frontier and the Atlantic Ocean along its northwestern extremity, not to mention having the island chains of the Balearics and the Canary Islands in the Mediterrenean and Atlantic respectively.

Football was brought to the country in the late 19th century by British immigrant workers and Spanish students returning from studying in Britain, with many of the earliest clubs being founded in the port cities, such as Huelva, Sevilla, Bilbao, and Barcelona. The RFEF joined FIFA as early as 1914 and had their first competitive game in the 1920 Olympics, beating Denmark 1-0 in Brussels on their way to an eventual silver medal in the tournament. The Spanish side competed in their first World Cup in 1934 when it was held in Italy and reached the quarter-finals before being eliminated by the hosts after a replay. After the devastation of the civil war, Spain would next appear in the 1950 World Cup where they performed well by finishing top of a group ahead of England, Chile, and the United States, but were unfortunate in the final round by finishing bottom of the four-team final group stage but managed a 2-2 draw with eventual winners Uruguay. That would be Spain’s best finish in the tournament for 60 years!

Spain’s first piece of silverware came in the 1964 European Championships, a tournament which they also hosted. They beat a fading Hungarian side 2-1 after extra time and then defeated the Soviet Union 2-1 in Madrid in a game which had political connotations attached to it (due to the Francoist regime being authoritarian right-wing and the Soviet’s communist government). However throughout the history of the Spanish national team, they have often been seen as a team who have usually underperformed despite the great talent within their squads, often finding defeat from the jaws of victory. They did manage to reach the final of Euro 1984 however, finishing ahead of Portugal, West Germany, and Romania in the group stage and then beating the iconic Denmark side on penalties in the semi-final, but eventually lost to the hosts France 2-0 in the final game. That result was a surprise rather than the normality for Spanish sides, who usually underperformed in either the Euros or World Cup. Despite qualifying for every World Cup since 1978, their best achievement had been reaching the quarter-finals in both the 1986, 1994, and 2002 editions. Even in the tournament that they hosted in 1982, they underperformed by historically losing to Northern Ireland 1-0 in Valencia before exiting the tournament in the second round group stage by finishing bottom of the group.

This lengthy period of underperforming and agony all changed for Spain in the mid-2000s as they entered their golden period. Inspired by a golden generation of players who had come through Barcelona’s fabled La Masia academy, or had been developed by Real Madrid (with both teams dominating European football during the 21st century), the Spanish teams’ performance inevitably improved. The Spanish powered through their group in Euro 2008, beating Russia, Sweden, and defending champions Greece, to finish top, before beating Italy on penalties (a surprise considering Spanish teams had a poor record in penalties shootouts) and beating Russia again in the semi-finals. In the final, they overcame a resurgent Germany 1-0 to clinch their second European title and announce Spain’s position as one of the world’s best sides. They confirmed this position two years later in South Africa. Despite a slow start to the campaign which saw them lose 1-0 to Switzerland in their opening game, they managed to beat both Honduras and Chile to eventually top the group. They would subsequently dispatch Portugal, Paraguay, and Germany to set-up a final against the Dutch. In a tight and nervy affair against the surprisingly over-physical Dutch side, La Roja finally managed to break the Netherlands’ hearts with four minutes of extra time remaining through an Andrés Iniesta strike to give Spain their first (and deserved) world title.

La Roja would reaffirm their status as the top team in Europe by regaining the European title in Euro 2012, becoming the first and only European team to win consecutive European Championships. They again finished top of their group ahead of Italy, Croatia, and Ireland before defeating France and Portugal (on penalties) to face Italy once again in the final. In the opening group game, they had drawn 1-1, however in the final, Spain produced one of their greatest performances as they carved the Italians apart to win 4-0 in Kyiv. Sadly that would be the final hurrah of the golden era of Spanish football. They famously suffered the “champions curse” in the 2014 World Cup by exiting in the group stage, memorably losing 5-1 to the Netherlands (in a revenge for the 2010 final), and then losing 2-0 to a talented Chilean side. They failed to progress beyond the Round of 16 at Euro 2016, finishing behind Croatia in the group before losing to Italy 2-0 in the knockout stage, and reached the same stage two years later in the 2018 World Cup. Failing to convince during the group stage where they scraped qualification by the skin of their teeth, they were surprisingly defeated by the hosts Russia on penalties.

Despite the worsening performances of the men’s side throughout the 2010s, the women’s side has gone the opposite direction and continually improved. After having finished as surprise semi-finalists in the 1997 Euros, Spanish women’s football had been hugely overshadowed by their male equivalent as they had failed to qualify for any major tournament. However since making their appearance in the 2013 Euros, they have qualified for every major tournament since. They reached the quarter-finals in both the 2013 and 2017 European Championships, and reached the Round of 16 in the 2019 World Cup. Spain is a rapidly improving team within women’s football, and with Barcelona recently becoming the UEFA Women’s Champions League winners for the first time, the signs look very encouraging for Spain’s performance in the forthcoming 2022 European Championships.

Naturally, Spain will be considered as one of the favourites for the upcoming 2020/21 European Championships as the Spanish club sides continue to produce talented players for the national side. They are in a favourable looking group with Sweden, Poland, and Slovakia, and will be surely aiming to progress beyond the Last 16 in the tournament. However, having not been convincing during their opening three games of their 2022 World Cup qualifying, which included an injury-time winning goal against Georgia, perhaps Spain might suffer the same fate as the previous two tournaments? Although being under the management of former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, the suggestions are that Spain can and will progress deep into the tournament, and maybe win their fourth European title come the end of the summer…

To talk about the 2010 World Cup winners and three-time European champions who will be one of the favourites to win this summer’s European Championships, we interviewed the excellent Omar. They are a fan of the Spanish national team and domestic leagues, and often tweet about Spanish football in the Spanish language. In addition, they contribute to the Spanish-language football account @ExpressFutbolCL. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:

In addition, talking about a side who are becoming one of the rapidly improving sides within women’s international football and have qualified for the last two World Cups and European Championships, and are scheduled to play in the 2022 Euros, we also interviewed the excellent Julio. Julio is a Brazilian-based football supporter who is fascinated in football analytics and tactics and uses his Twitter account to tweet out analytical/tactical information he has gathered from watching football games. In addition, as well as being a fan of the Spanish women’s national team, he is also a supporter of Barcelona and Werder Bremen. To find his social media accounts, follow the links below:

Key: O = Omar; J = Julio
[NOTE: UEFA & FIFA are not allowing highlights videos to be embedded so the links will be given instead]

Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Andrés Iniesta

O: Well, the best player, for me, would be Andrés Iniesta. An exceptional player, both on and off the pitch, the ‘brain‘ had a special talent, and is one of the best midfielders in history.

As for coaches, then there is Luis Aragonés, the architect of Spain’s ‘tiki-taka‘ champion of the 2008 European Championships and who laid the foundations for the world champion squad in South Africa 2010.

Jennifer Hermoso

J: That’s tough to say. I’d go with Jennifer Hermoso [31-year-old attacking midfielder currently playing for Barcelona], she’s currently their top scorer [with 42 goals at the time of writing] and arguably the best attacking-midfielder to ever play for them. She’s brilliant on and off the ball and an amazing finisher. As for the coach, I’m yet to see one that can be considered good. Ignacio Quereda was their head coach from 1988 until 2015 but had more negatives than positives. Ultimately he stepped down from his role after the 2015 World Cup due to the whole World Cup squad issuing a collective statement for the end of his reign. Jorge Vilda took over in 2015 and is doing a somewhat decent job, but still has a long way to go.

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?

Verónica Boquete

J: Verónica Boquete [34-year-old attacking midfielder/forward currently at AC Milan] will probably be the first name that comes to mind, especially for international viewers, but there are so many that must be up there with her. Natalia Pablos, Melanie Serrano, Erika Vázquez, Priscila Borja, Leira Landa, Elisabeth Ibarra, Laura del Río, Ruth García, Sonia Bermúdez, Ainhoa Tirapu. They’re all legends of the Spanish football team and the reason for all the achievements Spain is getting now.

O: There are several, it is impossible to choose just one. That is why I will choose these three: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, and Andrés Iniesta, the three of them formed the pillars of a Spain that dazzled the world between 2008 and 2014. In addition to having won the affection of the ‘Roja‘ fans. A wonderful trio!!

Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Spain currently?

Dani Olmo

O: Lately, in my opinion, Dani Olmo [23-year-old attacking midfielder/winger who plays for German Bundesliga side RB Leipzig] has been the best player of La Roja, in a team which has not found much stability, say, in recent matches. The boy promises a lot, and we will see what his performance will be like in the forthcoming European Championships.

Alexia Putellas

J: Alexia Putellas [Spain’s 27-year-old vice-captain who plays as an attacking midfielder/winger for Barcelona], definitely. She’s the one who gets things done for Spain (and for Barça) and the most skillful player on the team. She’s got a great football mind, too. Something that can be noticed when she’s not with the ball.

Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?

J: They’ve been playing one of, if not the best, football in the world at the moment. From defense to attack, everyone has performed at such a high level. We’ve seen it in the games against the top nations, such as Germany and USA.

O: Well, in a single word: ‘Unstable‘. It is a Spanish side that suffers more with serious rivals and when facing the smallest: the team does its homework, but it is not convincing viewing.

Q. Are there any Spanish players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?

Pedri

O: There are several, but I look at Pedri Gonzales. The 18-year-old Barcelona central midfielder is a mature player for his young age, possessing exquisite talent and technique. For me, the player with the most projection of the future ‘Reds‘.

Aitana Bonmatí

J: Absolutely. There are plenty of promising stars already on the team and some other who will soon get called up. Aitana Bonmatí and Patri Guijarro are the most talented ones, I would say. They are only 23-years-old, but already key pieces in midfield for both their club (Barcelona) and national team. There are other names to keep an eye on for the future as well. Lucía García (22-year-old forward playing at Athletic Club), Ona Batlle (21-year-old full-back playing for Manchester United), Anna Torrodà (21-year-old midfielder currently at Valencia), and many others.

Q. Looking at Spain’s long and illustrious international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?

J: Best game: I would say the 1-0 loss to the United States in the SheBelieves Cup in 2020. Despite the loss, Spain was the dominant side, created tons of chances, and could’ve won it.

Best result: The 3-2 win against England in the group stage of the 2013 European Championships, with Alexia Putellas coming off the bench to score the winner in added time.

Best performance: The scoreless draw against Germany in 2018. That was a massive defensive performance from Spain.

O: The 4-0 against Italy in the Euro 2012 final. A selection without extremes, without a traditional ‘number 9’, and with six creative midfielders, all inspired by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. A crazy team.

There is also the surprise 6-0 against the German team, for the UEFA Nations League last year.

Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?

O: The 5-1 defeat that the Netherlands gave them in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup. A horrible game where the Spanish, in a kind of revenge to the World Cup final four years previously, were widely surpassed by the Dutch. They had just come from winning a World Cup in the previous tournament, and I think it was a total shame to see them heavily beaten in such a way.

J: Yes, their loss to Austria in the quarter-finals of the last European Championships in 2017. They were a much better team on paper, but couldn’t show it on the pitch, and ended up seeing the Austrian team advance 5-3 on a penalty shootout after a goalless 120 minutes.

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Spanish national team?

J: The best thing is to watch and enjoy the beautiful football they play. Win or lose, they will always give you attractive football. The worst thing has to be the struggle to find streams for their games. They’ve come a long way and it’s improving in this regard, but sometimes their games are not streamed.

O: Well, the best part is the beautiful atmosphere that you feel in the games and the enjoyment of good football in the true Roja style. Sadly, the fanaticism of some fans, which sometimes goes from uncomfortable to very annoying, is the worst part but is rarely seen.

Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?

O: Well, there is the much acclaimed ‘Roja Baila‘. But outside of that I don’t know any other.

J: No, they haven’t yet. I mean, at least I haven’t seen anything like it.

Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?

The Euro 1996 shirt (left) and the Euro 2013 shirt (right)

J: Yes, the one from 2013 European Championships. Love that red shirt with yellow on the details.

O: There are several, but my favorite is the one from 1996. A unique and elegant design made for that year’s Euros, something magical.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Spanish national team?

Luis Enrique

O: This generation needs a real change. Personally, I trust that Luis Enrique, despite the doubts he generates, can do things well and raise the reputation of the much-loved ‘Roja‘.

J: My hopes are for them to invest more in the youth teams. That’s where their future is at.

A massive muchas gracias to Omar and Julio for answering our questions on La Roja. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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