Andy Mitten

Spain’s winning machine marches on

Andy Mitten

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The Spanish flags are still fluttering in celebration, but Spain is already looking forward.

Captain Iker Casillas and coach Vicente del Bosque were first off the plane at Madrid's massive Barajas airport on Monday afternoon after the flight from Kiev. They'd partied in a restaurant after the game, with another goalkeeper Pepe Reina again leading the celebrations. Every circus needs a clown and Reina's enthusiasm for the task makes him one of the most popular players in Spain, a country whose footballing dominance is relentless.

It looks set to continue. Yesterday, Spain released their football squad for the London Olympics and it contained the next generation of greats: David de Gea, Jordi Alba, Juan Mata, Javi Martinez, Thiago Alcantara, Ander Herrera and Iker Muniain. They're favourites and they'll give us an inkling of the Spanish national side of the future, though the current team looks fine for a good while yet.

Spain should qualify for Brazil (and given that they not lost a home game since 2005 or lost a single competitive game in over two years you'd be foolish to bet against them), with all their current squad likely to be included. The pruning has already been done, the older guard like midfielder Marcos Senna and defender Joan Capdevila replaced by Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.

Casillas will be 33 in Brazil and probably the most capped individual at the World Cup. In defence, Arbeloa will be 31, Pique 27, Ramos 28 and Alba 25 - all in their prime. Carles Puyol is likely to be only current player who'll miss out as he'll turn 36. In midfield, Busquets will be 25, Xabi Alsono 32, Fabregas 27, Silva 28, Iniesta 30 and Xavi 34. Villa will be 32, Torres 30, Pedro 26 and Llorente 29.

Del Bosque seems to have been around forever (and he has started coaching 25 years ago after a superb career as a player with Real Madrid and Spain), but he's almost a decade younger than Sir Alex Ferguson.

He's spoilt for choice by the embarrassment of riches at his disposal. There are a dozen other players in Spain's Euro 2012 squad who will be in their pomp, a collection good enough to beat almost every other national side. Then there are another dozen, many of them named in the Olympic squad, who have immense potential.

Spain are over-blessed with talent at every level. Not only is the national side World and European champions, but Spain are European champions at Under 21, 19 and 17 levels. They can also count on the advantages of excellent coaching, warm weather, new facilities and a dominant football style where players are encouraged to embrace the ball rather than hit it long. That style has proved to be effective for clubs like Barça and Spain.

Not only do they have stability among personnel (fewer changes of coach at national level than all their main rivals), but the players are not getting carried away. At Barcelona, Pep Guardiola had to get rid of a few players for whom he felt success had gone to their heads and blunted their appetite for more, big stars like Ronaldinho and Deco.

The Spanish players are different. They're bred to win, not to boast or become bloated. For holidays, many leading English players go to Las Vegas or 'Marbs' (Marbella) - a place many Spaniards are embarrassed exists in their own country. The young English dress like plastic gangsters and associate with a Who's Who of perma-tanned village idiots.

Fernando Llorente went to watch tennis at Wimbledon last year, took photos of Big Ben and learned as much English as possible. Andres Iniesta invested in a vineyard and talks enthusiastically about wine.

Xavi and Iniesta were stunned to hear that Paul Scholes wanted them to play in his testimonial game. "Could you get us a programme of the game?" asked Xavi. Why of course, you're Xavi Hernandez, the greatest midfielder on earth. Though Iniesta fans may dispute that.

There are few big egos in the national side, partly because of the way they've been raised, partly because they realise that club-based cliques and conflicts destroyed Spain teams of yore. The result is a brilliant camaraderie, with talented professionals accepting of their roles. Thus Reina is a cheerleader who rarely plays, while the other subs feel special being close to something magnificent.

Success in itself has brought unity. They will always be Basques and Catalans who want absolute independence or more autonomy from Madrid, but the success of La Roja was celebrated throughout Spain. Spain flags flew in Catalan neighbourhoods in surprising numbers and every victory was met with cheers and fireworks in Barcelona. That would have been unheard of a decade ago.

Some Catalans will claim that it's because there are so many of them in the squad, but their success has given the country a massive lift at a time when it was most needed because of the economic crisis. That's not something that Spaniards only see on the news, they experience and see it daily. Shops have closed in every neighbourhood, youth unemployment touches 50 per cent and the housing market has burst in a country of abandoned construction sites. Spaniards are not hopeful about the future and many of the country's brightest graduates are looking outside Spain for a future, but when it comes to football they feel very optimistic. You can hardly blame them.

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