VIEW FROM SPAIN: The ‘soap opera’ of Luis Enrique’s maverick side is giving fans more fun than they’ve had in years… no one expects them to win Euro 2020, but if they beat Switzerland tonight they are capable of anything
- Spanish football fans are enjoying the rollercoaster ride of Luis Enrique’s side
- The Spaniards made life hard for themselves in a thrilling 5-3 win over Croatia
- Supporters have come to expect the unexpected from their national team
- Enrique has not been afraid of making unpopular decisions at the Euros
- There remain some hopes of Euro 2020 triumph with this inconsistent side
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
‘I like the Dragon Khan,’ Spain coach Luis Enrique said, referring to the famous roller-coaster at the theme park just outside of Barcelona, PortAventura, ‘but this time the Dragon almost swallowed me’.
Spain managed to pull victory from the jaws of defeat in Copenhagen, and then as their manager admitted, throw it back into the mouth of the beast again only to then retrieve it for a second time.
‘Capable of anything’ was Diario Sport’s match report headline and that pretty much summed up what most people in Spain now think of the national team. Could they go all the way and win it? Yes. But they are also capable of gift-wrapping the Swiss a goal on Friday and this time not staging the epic comeback.
Spanish fans have come to expect the unexpected from Luis Enrique’s thrilling Spaniards
The World No 6-ranked side clinched a dramatic 5-3 win over Croatia in the last-16 on Monday
‘Epic’ was the word most used in Tuesday’s coverage of the 5-3 victory. Luis Enrique said in a post-match radio interview that he wasn’t going to let on what he had said to Unai Simon at half-time because people would hear and see for themselves once the fly-on-the-wall documentary from inside the dressing room comes out. The tentative project, entirely dependent on Spain’s progress, was at first low-key but the film being made is now starting to look like a thriller.
Luis Enrique is writing the surreal script and his band of 24 are bringing it to life. The Spain coach is a man of controversial decisions, big calls that baffle and even annoy and yet up until now every one has come off for him:
- Sticking with Alvaro Morata when the striker’s confidence seemed shredded.
- Picking Pablo Sarabia when most Spain supporters couldn’t understand why the PSG player was in the squad much less in the team.
- Changing the winning XI that beat Slovakia so that Manchester City’s Ferran Torres could start.
- Leaving Sergio Ramos behind and trusting the more laid-back Sergio Busquets to be the captain.
- Leaving out Gerard Moreno and Marcos Llorente despite the almost undisputable fact that they were the best Spanish players in La Liga last season.
- Playing Pedri in every game despite the 18-year-old getting bullied by Poland and Sweden in the opening games.
Against Croatia in the last-16, Pedri beat the record previously held by Marcus Rashford: aged 18 years and 215 days he had become the youngest player to play a Euros knockout game.
Enrique is writing this surreal script and is unafraid to make the unpopular selection decisions
The former Barcelona boss has resolutely stuck by the misfiring Alvaro Morata (right)
Busquets and Jose Gaya hobbled out of the game but both will be okay for the quarter-finals. This is where most Spaniards believe their team would fall but that was before the favourites France were knocked out. Now they have to beat the Swiss to set-up a semi-final with Italy or Belgium.
It seems pointless to look for omens in such an anarchic tournament but many pointed out that exhausting extra-time victories also marked the path to the final in 2008 and 2010 when Spain won back-to-back Euros. They beat Italy in the first of those and Holland in the second. Their record overall of five wins in six extra-time games is good.
After their triple crown of two Euros and a World Cup from 2008 until 2012 Spain have bombed at major tournaments unable to get past the first knockout phase. A generation of their supporters grew up thinking that it was normal for them to win tournaments but the last three failures have taught them that that is not the case.
Spain can excite but fans are cautious that they are one step away from conceding easily
Spain have plenty of talent that can grow in the future, such as Barcelona’s Pedri
With that in mind perhaps it was El Mundo columnist Inako Diaz who best summed up the mood. ‘I don’t ask from life that I win because winning doesn’t happen that often, it just condemns you to a lot of frustration,’ he wrote. ‘I ask of life that it gives me some laughs and no Spain team has done that for me like this one. We have gone from the team least likely to score to the team who have scored 10 in two games.’
He goes on to discuss Unai Simon’s ‘legendary’ mistake. Morata’s ability to miss an easier header from a yard out and then score a far more difficult goal to win the game. And Azpilicueta heading in a goal ‘like a dad doing the homework for his struggling child just to get it over with’.
He concludes: ‘Every Spain game is a soap opera. I adore this team.’ He also makes the point that this is a young Spain team. Pedri is 18, Ferran Torres 21, Dani Olmo 23, Eric Garcia 20. If they don’t win this Euros their future in general looks as bright as it’s looked since the days of Xavi and Iniesta.
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