Since lifting the World Cup in South Africa nine years ago, Spain have won just two games at the finals – suffering shock eliminations in both Brazil and Russia.
The fortunes of La Roja’s senior side contrast sharply with Spain Under-21s.
They have dominated European international football this decade in their age bracket with victory over Germany in Italy a third continental crown from four finals reached since 2011.
While Spain Under-21s didn’t qualify in 2015, that hat-trick of Euro titles in eight years shows they remain a force. Why then, has the full national team gone from all-conquering heroes in 2008-12 to World Cup zeros?
Senior pros continue to enjoy success in their club careers. La Liga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid captured six of the last nine Champions League crowns between them.
Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, meanwhile, took five of the last eight Europa League titles on offer.
La Roja’s struggles don’t make sense – until you look at the record of bringing players through from the Spain Under-21s setup.
As of the end of the 2018-19 European season, only Juan Mata and Koke have gone on to earn more than 40 full international caps from those four Under-21 Euro squads.
The likes of David De Gea, Isco and Alvaro Morata are senior Spain regulars, but had to wait their turn as established players blocked their path at first.
La Roja may be guilty of letting too many go on too long thus stunting the growth and potential of their bright youngsters.
Flopping at the last two World Cups isn’t entirely down to not promoting Spain Under-21s into full internationals. The chaos that ensued in La Roja’s camp on the eve of Russia 2018 had nothing to do with the squad.
Spain Under 21s press case after coaching changes
Julen Lopetegui had a good thing going with Spain. He nurtured many players as Under-21s boss between 2012 and 2014, but the lure of Real Madrid – a hiding to nothing as it inevitably turned out – proved too strong.
Coaching instability followed. Spain have had four different bosses in the space of a year.
Lopetegui was axed by incensed La Roja chiefs on the eve of the World Cup and Fernando Hierro stepped in at the last minute for the tournament.
Luis Enrique then took over but personal reasons caused him to step down this summer.
Long-time assistant Robert Moreno now has charge of Spain. It’s perhaps more bad luck than anything else that these problems have beset them.
Given this backdrop, it’s no wonder that promoting youngsters from Spain Under-21s into La Roja’s XI hasn’t been a priority.
Midfield youth graduates Koke and Thiago were last called up in October, yet certain other positions are nailed down.
Sergio Ramos skippers Spain but his defensive partner since Gerard Pique called time on his international career isn’t settled.
Seven different players capable of playing centre back have earned call-ups in the last 12 months. Could clubmate and Spain Under-21s captain Jesus Vallejo be the answer?
Inigo Martinez has always been highly regarded, but just eight caps by age 28 suggest he may have suffered from staying in his native Basque Country.
Who plays on the flanks for Spain, meanwhile, looks wide open. New West Ham signing Pablo Fornals is one to watch here.
Manchester City target Rodri and Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz, who was voted best player at the Euros, can also stake serious claims for midfield spots if they continue to perform well.
This latest success for Spain Under-21s is something Moreno must take note of.