There are two teams above all else in Spanish football (well, some might say 2.5 with Atletico Madrid). The Champions League final article touched on the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona, and what they represent. Mostly the Spanish style of football has been defined by Barcelona in the recent decades. Spain plays a game, where the ball is passed around often and at a fast pace. Play moves forwards and backwards, and from side to side. The aim is to keep possession of the ball and simply wait for opponents to make a mistake. This requires a high technical level of all players on the pitch, players who know each other and the style well, and the willingness to work defensively as well. All players must always be active and move to aid their fellow teammates.
Spanish football is at times both praised for its technical skill, but also criticised for being boring. The style seems interesting and great if that is your thing and your team is playing that way. However, it can also just be 90 minutes of Spanish players doing passing exercises as if it was during training. Either you love it, or you hate it.
Where do the Spanish play?
6 Real Madrid, 3 Barcelona, 3 Atlético Madrid, and 1 from different foreign and national clubs. Those are the three big clubs, and the only reason why it is not more from those teams is likely because they also employ a high number of foreigners. All three attempt to compete for European club competitions each season, and therefore they must have the best player in the world. Which also means the main star of the three teams is a Portuguese (Ronaldo, Real), a Argentine (Messi, Barca), and a Frenchman (Griezmann, Atletico).
Spanish players mainly play in their own league, but a few play in other European clubs. However, as with any of the major leagues, players tend to stick closer to home, unless an extraordinary opportunity arises.
Political influence and national narrative
Also covered in the Champions League final article. Spain is to some a kingdom of Madrid with colonial-like power in the regions, and to others it is a unitary country. The divisions can split regions almost down the middle between autonomy/independence/regionalism and national/centralist perspectives. So if your local team plays Real Madrid, then it is your region and city against the central authority. For some this is part of the fun of the game, and for others it is deadly serious.
Regional divisions, however, only last so long. When Spain wins a World Cup, then suddenly all of Catalonia is Spanish, and the Barcelona players are just as Spanish as the Real Madrid players. Victory on the pitch means unity outside of it. And regionalism in Spain is different in each and every region. Spain is a country of many influences, and a country that has influenced much of the world. More than half a billion people speak Spanish, and only 10% of the native speakers live in Spain. And in Spain you have other local languages such as Basque, Catalan, and Galician.
The Spanish duality is going to be important. Especially following the ongoing Catalonian crisis that started last year. Spanish football and their National Team might be the best hope their country has for healing those wounds. There will be a lot of pressure on them to deliver.
Group and expectations
On the day before the tournament starts and two days before facing Portugal in likely their hardest group game. Spain fired their manager. He had signed a contract for the following season with Real Madrid without informing or consulting his employer, and the action was swift. This is either going to cause chaos, or create a spirit of fighting with what they have. The ultimate challenge is Portugal, but in the second game they face a tricky and hard to read Iran. If they win both then then there will be no problems, and Spain will be a contender for the title.
If they do not get the results on the pitch, then there will be war in the media. The football association, the players, the fans, the journalists… It could be a real mess, and Marocco might be out for colonial revenge in the final game, and to vindicate themselves after not getting the 2026 World Cup (announced days ago). Spain really have to beat Portugal today to keep it together.