If one leg of the Spanish team is Basque, the other is Catalan and after a long season, both seem tired. Despite their heritage, the Dutch approach the edition with a more prosaic mindset. Rounding up Group B are Chile, egged on by a fiery coach, and Australia, the worst ranked team.
Spain: The threat within
Catalonia. Euskadi. Spain? Just how would Spain’s autonomous regions — there are 17 of them — represent themselves politically through football if the rest had to be called Spanish? The problem has not, until now, reared its head among the players as all of Spain plays for the national team known as La Furia Roja or the red fury.
But what if?
Some of Spain’s most decorated footballers belong to two regions who have been pushing for national status while playing in the Spanish league, much like Welsh clubs do in the EPL while still representing Wales nationally. Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Valdes, Fabregas, Busquets and a host of others are eligible to play for the Catalan national team while Martinez, Azpilicueta and Xabi Alonso, among others, are eligible to play for the Basque national team.
In all, these teams would not find it difficult to form a national team while leaving the current holders seriously weakened. Even so, Spain face no threat as FIFA has no plans to take up the matter as of now. Even the players see it from the same viewpoint.
As Xavi told the press: “People ask us, ‘Who would you play for if there was a Catalan international team?’ I always say: ‘The option doesn’t exist now, so I can’t make that choice. I like playing in these friendlies, but the reality is if I want to play in Euros and World Cups I have to do so with Spain.’”
Should the nationality debate stir up and FIFA accept their claims, the biggest threat for Spain will not come from others but from within. Either Catalonia or Euskadi, if they line up full strength, as they do each Christmas in a one-off annual match, will severely test Spain’s weakened squad if not defeat them comprehensively.
An exhausted bunch
The second and more insidious threat — due to its currency at this World Cup — is the mental and physical state of its players. Some are teetering on the edge of exhaustion while others are reeling from the effects of a season in which they did not win anything