Cesar Azpilicueta’s fine performances for Chelsea this season earned him a recall to the Spanish national side, who are seeking to overcome a disrupted build-up by regaining the crown they won in 2008 and 2012…
Spain – Group E
Spain’s preparations for Euro 2020 have been hit by Covid, with both captain Sergio Busquets and Leeds defender Diego Llorente testing positive in recent days. They will miss the opening fixture against Sweden on Monday.
The remainder of the squad are currently in self-isolation, so a group of players, including our own Kepa Arrizabalaga, have been called up to take part in a parallel training group. They are staying in a separate bubble to Luis Enrique’s initial squad of 24, with the possibility of replacing any Covid-affected players. Enrique was the only boss not to use the full complement of 26 players.
Alongside these complications, there are plenty of question marks hanging over his selection as he has a squad of very impressive depth to choose from. While the current iteration of La Roja are still possession-based, they can be a bit more direct than their predecessors, using the pace of Ferran Torres and Adama Traore.
Spain were beaten by Antonio Conte's Italy in the last 16 five years ago having won the tournament for the first time in 2008, and followed that up with another triumph in 2012. Three Euro wins in four is very much possible.
Spain are strong favourites to qualify from Group E, which also contains Sweden, Poland and Slovakia. All three of their group games will be played at the Cartuja in Seville, so they will benefit from home advantage, too.
Their first opponents Sweden retain the deep 4-4-2 shape which has made them stubborn international opponents for the best part of two decades, and they are boosted by the surprise return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Poland look unpredictable under former QPR and Swansea boss Paulo Sousa, and will be reliant on Robert Lewandowski for goals, while Slovakia will try and make life difficult for their more vaunted opponents by sitting deep and playing on the counter.
Azpilicueta hasn’t played for Spain since late 2018 but the European Cup-winning captain deservedly earned a recall after a string of superb displays for the Blues, not least against Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, Spain’s top two sides.
Azpi was a regular in Spanish squads from 2013 to 2018 although rarely a first-choice selection. He has 25 caps to his name, 17 of which have come in friendlies, but has been to a Confederations Cup and two World Cups.
This will be his second European Championships appearance, and he will hope to make the right-back spot his own, with Dani Carvajal unavailable because of injury.
Spain v Sweden, Seville, Monday 14 June, 8pm
Spain v Poland, Seville, Saturday 19 June, 8pm
Spain v Slovakia, Seville, Wednesday 23 June, 5pm
If Spain win their group, they will play a third-placed team in Glasgow.
If Spain finish runners-up, they will play the runners-up of Group D (England, Scotland, Croatia, Czech Republic).
Goalkeepers: David de Gea (Manchester United), Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbao), Robert Sanchez (Brighton)
Defenders: Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Jose Gaya (Valencia), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Diego Llorente (Leeds United), Eric García (Manchester City), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)
Midfielders: Sergio Busquet (Barcelona), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid), Thiago (Liverpool), Rodri (Manchester City), Fabian (Napoli),
Forwards: Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Gerard Moreno (Villareal), Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig), Pedri (Barcelona), Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Adama Traore (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Pablo Sarabia (Paris Saint-Germain)
*As at 9 June 2021