Group B: Spain looking like serious contenders again

Andrés Iniesta readies himself for last waltz while David de Gea could be the difference

Spain (6-1)

Who are they?

The aura of invincibility which surrounded Spanish football from 2008-2012 is long gone, but Spain remain a heavyweight force with one of the most enviable squads in the world. La Roja were untouchable as they won the European Championships in 2008 and 2012 – and the World Cup in 2010 – but their last two major tournaments have been unanimous failures. On one level Spain are a team in transition, but they retain a core of the players who led the rest of the world on a merry dance for four years – David Silva, Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta all travel to Russia – while Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique remain the beating heart of the defence.

Manager Julen Lopetegui has had the task drip-feeding in a newer breed while retaining the intense, possession-based football which has served Spain so well – a task made easier with the likes of Koke, Saul, Isco and Marco Asensio at your disposal. Spain can now call on the world's best goalkeeper in David De Gea, who is good enough to cancel out any defensive shortcomings. Questions remain over who will lead the line – Diego Costa is the likely starter up front.

World Cup moment

Andrés Iniesta’s 116th-minute winner against Holland in the 2010 World Cup final – the crowning glory for the best national side of a generation, and one of the greatest of all time.

How did they get here?

Spain qualified with the minimum of fuss, their only dropped points coming in a 1-1 draw away to Italy in the second round of qualification games. They were particularly impressive in beating the Azzurri 3-0 in the return fixture.

The gaffer

Julen Lopetegui took over in 2016 after Vincent Del Bosque announced his retirement and brought an unparalleled eight-year tenure to an end. Spain's methods remain the same under their new boss, and he appears to be doing a good job of blending the old and new guard, allowing for a smooth transition between mamagers.

The main man

It’s time for one last waltz. Andrés Iniesta is leaving Barcelona this summer, with his move likely to signal the end of one of the greatest ever international careers. The 34-year-old will be used more sparingly in Russia but he remains vital to the tempo Spain play at – the chief conductor of the orchestra.

One to watch

Spain have an array of outstanding outfield players, but it is their goalkeeper who is indisputably the best in the world in his position. David De Gea continues to defy logic in goal for Manchester United, and should prove invaluable to the Spanish in what is likely to be a very tight tournament.

The verdict

Should Spain top Group B ahead of Portugal, it is likely they will progress to the quarter-finals and face Argentina. If they can negotiate a route past Lionel Messi there is no reason they can’t go all the way.

The squad

Goalkeepers: David De Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao)

Defenders: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), César Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Nacho Fernández (Real Madrid), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Álvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad)

Midfielders: Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona), Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion (Atletico Madrid), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), David Silva (Manchester City), Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid), Francisco "Isco" Alarcón (Real Madrid)

Forwards: Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Rodrigo (Valencia), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid)

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