Jaded Spain could fade
Aged stars, dated tactics and wicked draw may spell disaster for reigning champions
David de Gea has insisted that Spain can retain their World Cup this summer in Brazil, and quite right too.
It would be extraordinary if the Manchester United stopper had said anything else.
But the truth is that this is likely to be a very challenging tournament for the Spanish.
After six years of uninterrupted success that has brought two European Championships and a World Cup, is the sun finally setting on the era of tiki-taka?
The last two years have not been kind to the clever passing football made famous by both the national team and by Barcelona.
Tito Vilanova's Catalan side won La Liga in 2013, but were outclassed in Europe by Bayern Munich.
His replacement Roberto Martino lasted just a single season and won nothing at all.
Towering passing statistics seem almost unfashionable now in Europe, where teams have adapted by drilling banks of defensive players in preparation for the onslaught and ordering them to launch terrifying counter-attacks.
Spain are hardly in a position to evolve with them, as it's difficult to imagine a style of play for which they would be worse suited.
Andreas Iniesta is now 30, Xabi Alonso is 32, Xavi Hernandez is 34 and that midfield has always preferred possession to pace.
Elsewhere, there are niggling issues. They will miss the experience and leadership of Carlos Puyol at the back.
Sergio Ramos remains ill disciplined and reckless, and Iker Casillas hasn't been first choice for Real Madrid for 18 months, in the league at least.
But their main problem is the front line. Fernando Torres is a shadow of the player he once was and can count himself highly fortunate to even make the 30-man preliminary squad. David Villa, 33 this year, is also a reduced force.
The nationalisation of Diego Costa was supposed to be the solution, but the Atletico Madrid man is struggling with a hamstring injury and may not be fit in time.
Without his tireless tenacity, Spain may struggle to break defences down.
There are other options, notably the height of Juventus man Fernando Llorente, but it's a little late in the day for a new way of thinking.
None of this would matter too much if Spain were in a normal group.
Faced with teams like Algeria or Iran, they would have the chance to find their stride over the course of the tournament.
Unfortunately for them, they've been dumped in one of the worst groups imaginable and given the worst schedule as well.
Their first game is a replay of the 2010 World Cup final, a clash with Louis van Gaal's Dutch side.
If they lose that, they'll have to play Chile just to stay in the tournament. With unfancied Australia arriving far too late, Spain's World Cup could potentially end in just six days.
It couldn't happen? That's exactly what they said about France in 2002.
Like Spain, the French arrived at the tournament as world and European champions.
An opening-day defeat by Senegal, followed by a goalless draw with Uruguay and defeat by Denmark, saw them finish at the bottom of their group.
No European team have won a World Cup in South America, indeed Spain are the only European side ever to win one away from their own continent.
Their key players are ageing and exhausted after a long season, their style of football has been compromised and they will face horrendously difficult opposition right from the start.
De Gea is right to be confident and upbeat, but there is nothing simple about what awaits them.
And just in case you thought their task wasn't difficult enough, guess who they will most likely play if they finish second in their group?
It’s true that the national team players have been competing until very recently. But you forget the tiredness when you go to a World Cup and with Spain. It was the same with other tournaments in the past and it went well for us. The players from big clubs are used to having long seasons.
— Spain striker Fernando Torres
It is fate that we play them again in our first match, the same as the final of the last World Cup. Let’s see if we are capable of beating the Dutch again; they have certainly changed since that World Cup final.
— Spain coach Vicente del Bosque on facing Holland in the opening Group B match