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Spain: The key men

Twelve goals scored. One goal conceded. Spain’s near-perfect record is testament to the quality displayed by a team now being called the best ever.

The statistics show that La Roja’s success was a result of class across the pitch; the efforts of a stoic defence as much as an intelligent strike force. Who has been the key to this success? And what is it that makes them stand a foot above the rest?

Named player of the tournament by UEFA’s technical board, FC Barcelona’s Andrés Iniesta has been central to Spain’s smooth style of play.

One of Barcelona’s ‘tika taka’ breed, Iniesta has linked up well with Xavi Hernández in particular to retain the ball at crucial points of the tournament, helping to achieve Spain’s 80% pass completion rate.

Akin to Paul Scholes, Iniesta’s strength, as always, has been in doing the simple things fantastically; his ability to pass simply as well as pick out passes non existent to others on the pitch; his ability to dribble at speed while keeping in control of the ball. These simple skills, executed sublimely, have underpinned the success of Vicente del Bosque’s men.

Iniesta, Alonso and Xavi part of a majestic midfield

Iniesta has been Spain’s player of the tournament, is a fantastic example for aspiring footballers, and has, in the words of Andy Roxburgh, UEFA Technical Director, “symbolised the tournament.”

The FC Barcelona midfielder's job has, of course, been made all the more easy by the majestic midfield cohort he has been operating among.

Xavi Hernández has overseen nearly all aspects of the red's play. Constantly dictating the tempo and pace at which the Euro victors play, Xavi’s bossing of the midfield is reflected by his pass completion rate of circa 90% in every game.

With seven attempts on target and two assists, Xavi has been crucial to the substance of Spain’s success as much as he has been responsible for the play that has facilitated it.

In close partnership with Alonso, whose goal tally of two puts him in equal contention for the title of ‘key man,’ Xavi has been a captain in all but name in the Spanish side. He has been truly mesmerising to watch.

Quality of Casillas’s performance not up for debate

Easy to overlook, yet undeniably fundamental to Spain’s success, captain Iker Casillas, nicknamed San Iker (Saint Iker), has been outstanding.

Having won 100 of his 137 international matches, and holding the world record for clean sheets, Saint Iker’s performance as a goalkeeper is not up for debate.

His role has, paradoxically, been made all the more difficult by Spain’s infallibility; forced to watch his side keep the ball for long passages of play, concentration has been key for when the rare occasion has arisen on which he has been called into action.

Casillas’s save of João Moutinho’s penalty in the semi-final was a turning point in the shootout. It was a save characteristic of his leadership in the Spanish squad; of his ability to lead his country to victory. His significance cannot be overestimated.

Ramos the cornerstone of an impenetrable defense

Central to Spain’s minimal goals conceded tally, also, has been Sergio Ramos. Consistently in the thick of the action, he has come up against serious talent throughout the competition, and has come out on top on every occasion.

Ranked first in UEFA’s Castrol EDGE Index, Ramos has been a crucial asset to the defensive resilience of Spain.

At joint top among his side for the most yellow cards and third in terms of fouls committed, Ramos has supplemented a highly skilful side with the less glamorous, but equally essential qualities of tackling and breaking down attacks. He has helped build the team from the back.

A review of Spain’s key men that omits Fernando Torres, joint top scorer in the tournament, as well as the class of Fabregas and Piqué, to name but two, is testament to the quality of this Spain side. It is a reminder of the unprecedented quality witnessed these last few weeks.

By Ross D’lima

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