World Cup: Fan wears Union Flag in Iran
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Whisper it quietly, but Spain appear to be on the rise ahead of their World Cup clash with Costa Rica this evening. Luis Enrique’s side have been ticking along well ever since his appointment, with youth at the forefront of his project in the dugout. However, as they look to claim a fourth tournament triumph in 14 years, they still lack a Fernando Torres or David Villa up top…
Spain re-appointed Enrique as manager back in November 2019, with the former Barcelona boss taking over from Robert Moreno.
He had formerly been forced to give up the job the previous year, with his daughter tragically passing away at the age of nine after a battle with cancer.
Enrique had previously been hoping to manage Spain at the World Cup in Russia but, understandably, he vacated the hotseat.
Julen Lopetegui then took over but he was axed on the eve of the tournament, with Real Madrid icon Fernando Hierro then temporarily taking over.
It would be no understatement to say, though, that Spain’s tournament was a disaster.
The 2010 winners were able to fight their way out of the group stages but lost to Russia on penalties in the round of 16, in a result that shocked the world.
Since Enrique has taken over, however, the 52-year-old has helped to rebuild the side placing youth at the forefront of his operation.
For today’s match with Costa Rica, Barcelona pair Gavi and Pedri are widely expected to feature from the start.
The duo are wonderkids over in Catalonia, having already earned the trust of manager Xavi and becoming one of the first names on the 42-year-old’s team sheet.
Ansu Fati, another Barcelona gem, could also feature.
It’s easy to forget the winger is just 20, especially given how he’s been involved in the La Liga giants’ first-team for around three years now.
Fati saw last season cut short after a cruel injury, one that prevented him from kicking on and continuing his development.
But he’s responded in impressive fashion, scoring three goals and registering three assists from 14 matches.
Barcelona gave him the No 10 jersey last summer after Lionel Messi’s shock departure to Paris Saint-Germain, something that speaks volumes about his potential for the future.
But while Spain are a team slowly climbing their way back to the heights of old, they still lack a cutting edge up top.
During their prime years, between 2008 and 2012, they had a formidable front two of Fernando Torres and David Villa.
They became the best international strike partnership on the planet, propelling their country to two European Championships as well as the World Cup trophy in 2010.
But, these days, La Roja are hanging their hats on Alvaro Morata.
Morata is a decent striker, which is why clubs such as Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Juventus have been happy to have him.
And statistics of 27 goals from 57 appearances for his country certainly isn’t too shabby whatsoever.
Yet Morata appears to go missing when it matters most, an accusation that has been levelled at him throughout his entire career.
He’ll need to be on song in Qatar to prove he deserves to be the nation’s successor to both Villa and Torres, who have long been retired.
Spain will certainly be going for the golden trophy.
After all, they’re still one of the best teams in the world – even if they’re not operating at the same dizzying heights as before.
And whether they can get their campaign off to a positive start against Costa Rica this evening remains to be seen.
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