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How Will Spain Evolve?

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Spain's triumph at Euro 2012, becoming the first team to win three consecutive international tournaments, was not only based on technical excellence, tactical flexibility and a desire for repeated success. It was also due to consistency of selection. Of the players who started the Euro 2012 final, six were in the starting line-up in Vienna four years earlier. The number might have been higher if Carlos Puyol had been fit.

Spain's style of football throughout the tournaments has become increasingly based on control, a phenomenon that has led to accusations of the team being boring and predictable. However, those critics miss the point about the perfecting of a method that is not only efficient with no goals conceded in the knockout stages for all three of their wins but as seen on Sunday, is so ruthless that captain Iker Casillas asked the match officials to stop the match early.

Whilst there has been a consistent presence of certain players throughout the years, Spain's coach Vincente del Bosque has not been afraid to make changes to a winning team. How Spain will develop from here is intriguing and the answer may lie in comparing the alterations made between tournaments.

Euro 2008 line-up: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Puyol, Marchena, Capdevila, Senna, Iniesta, Fabregas (Alonso 63), Xavi, Silva (Santi Cazorla 66), Torres (Guiza 78)

World Cup 2010 final line-up: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Puyol, Pique, Capdevila, Alonso, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Pedrito, Villa

After winning Euro 2008, Luis Aragones stepped down from the job and was replaced by del Bosque. The new manager tweaked the formation to introduce a second defensive midfielder with Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets occupying the roles. In Euro 2008, it was just Marcos Senna who was patrolling in front of the back four. His assured presence allowed Iniesta, Xavi and Fabregas to plough forward and supply chances to the likes of Torres, Villa and Dani Guiza.

Senna was voted into the team of the tournament and was named by Martin O'Neill as his player of the tournament for his ability to calmly break up play and get the ball forward. But after an injury-hit campaign in 2009-2010, he was dropped in favour of Sergio Busquets who had established himself as a first team player with Barcelona.

In defence, Carlos Marchena was replaced by Gerard Pique who had undergone a similar rise through the Barcelona ranks as Busquets. Marchena had come into the Spanish team after they had lost two consecutive qualifiers to Northern Ireland and Sweden. He formed part of the defence as Spain went through the rest of the qualifying campaign unbeaten, missing only the final game. After Euro 2008, his place came under threat from Raul Albiol, Sergio Ramos and Pique. He made only three appearances in the qualifiers for the World Cup 2010, with Gerard Pique cementing his place with three goals. At the finals, Marchena only mustered three substitute appearances, all of which came with Spain looking to shore up 1-0 wins in the knockout rounds.

World Cup 2010 final line-up: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Puyol, Pique, Capdevila, Alonso, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Pedrito, Villa

Euro 2012 final line-up: Casillas, Pique, Ramos, Arbeloa, Alba, Iniesta (Mata - 87'), Xavi, Fabregas (Torres - 75'), Alonso, Busquets, Silva (Pedrito - 59')

The major change from the World Cup win to the triumph in Kiev was the deployment of Cesc Fabregas as a false nine. Although a new role for the Barcelona man, he was highly effective, scoring two goals in the group stages and setting up David Silva for the first goal in the final. The false nine experiment was forced on del Bosque. Had David Villa been fit after breaking his leg, it is likely that he would have started. Given that he will only be 32 when the next World Cup comes round, it is unlikely that del Bosque will choose to discount the country's record goal-scorer from his plans.

The only other changes from the World Cup win were in defence. Carlos Puyol's injury saw Sergio Ramos move to the centre and Álvaro Arbeloa come in at right back. On the other flank, Joan Capdevila lost his place to the dynamic Jordi Alba. Alba only made his debut for La Rioja in October of last year but has shown in his 11 caps that he is already at home in international football. His transfer to Barcelona will only expedite his familiarity with his international team mates.

So what will the 2014 version of Spain look like? The quick answer is very familiar to the previous versions. The Spain side is experienced but not old. Andres Iniesta is only 28, Cesc Fabregas 25 and David Silva 26. Add in the central defensive pairing of Pique (25) and Ramos (26) and there is a core of players who will be around for the next two tournaments at least.

There is also the question of how do you improve a side that has not only won the last three international tournaments but won them without conceding any goals in any of their knockout matches. However, between 2008-2012, players have come and gone, and there is no reason why the process of evolution will lead to the cull of certain members of the team. Looking at the line-up of 2012, the only possible candidates to lose their place in the team are Xavi and Arbeloa.

The only doubt that comes with Xavi, the capo di capo of Spain's pass masters, is his age. He will be 34 in 2014, and could find the intensity of both Spain's pressing game and the Brazilian heat too draining. He might be replaced by his deputy at club level, Thiago Alcantara. But it is also possible that del Bosque will deploy him in a deeper level, as he did during the early stages of Euro 2012, allowing him to conserve his energy.

Given the success of Jordi Alba on the flank with his crossing and finishing making him yet another attacking threat, del Bosque might look to replicate it on the right. Arbeloa is a steady enough defender but does not possess the same potency of Alba. An alternative at right back could be another product from La Masia. When Dani Alves broke his clavicle at the end of last season, Martin Montoya stepped up and did not look out of place in the 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey. Montoya has already been part of the Spain squad, having been called up last August for the games against Liechtenstein and Chile.

However, with Dani Alves in front of him, Montoya is unlikely to get much in the way of first team football. Another alternative at right back is Cesar Azpilicueta who featured in the provisional squad for the World Cup in 2010 but did not make the cut. Since then, he moved to Marseille and having overcome a serious knee injury, has developed well enough to have attracted attention from Chelsea. Both Montoya and Azpilicueta have been selected for the Olympic squad and both will be looking to show that they deserve a chance to break into probably the greatest team of all time.

Possible 2014 World Cup line-up: Casillas, Azpilicueta, Ramos, Pique, Alba, Alonso, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Villa