“Now is when the real competition comes,” warned Luis Enrique at the end of the match with Slovakia and with the fierce Croatia scheduled for Monday in Copenhagen. The spy de los crosses, which the Brazilians say, will measure the competitive capacity of the national team when there is no longer any possibility of correcting mistakes to move forward in the Eurocup.
Marked by defensive tenderness and a point of uproar and precipitation in attack against Sweden and Poland, Luis Enrique operated in the eleven to play the pass to the round of 16 against Slovakia. The coach and his players were on the wire, under the pressure of the hit that would have meant being eliminated in a first phase that classified 16 of the 24 participants in the tournament. To face Slovakia, Luis Enrique made a lineup with more office and hierarchy than the one presented in the first two games. Three of the four novelties that he introduced, Azpilicueta, Busquets and Sarabia offered him more flight hours than the sacrificed Marcos Llorente, Rodrigo and Dani Olmo. Nor did the coach rotate Jordi Alba, Koke and Morata.
In each line, there were at least two referents. Laporte and Eric García had Azpilicueta, captain and European champion with Chelsea, and Jordi Alba, who added to his long career against Slovakia his 75th international appearance against Slovakia. Pedri, more in tune with the wind in favor of the scoreboard, played under the protection of Koke and Busquets. Above, Sarabia, Morata and Gerard Moreno are in their thirties and, although with different leading roles in their teams, they are battered in high competition. The result was a more built and imposing Spain, but not only with the rival.
The play of the penalty on Koke staged that Spain more hardened and kennel. As soon as he heard Koke’s moans about the clumsy kick that Hromada gave him in a calf, Busquets threw himself on the referee, the Dutch Kuipers, to claim the infraction. The Atlético midfielder also did the same, pointing to the area hit by the Slovak midfielder in his attempt to clear the ball. Enough for Azpilicueta to give himself a 40-meter race to surround the referee and then chase him to the VAR screen to continue insisting. The Navarrese had not seen the play closely, but he had heard Koke shouting that the penalty was very clear and he did not stop repeating it to the referee while he reviewed the images. The pressure on the referee was a very significant detail of that most vicious Spain led by Busquets. “We are a young team, but there are also players with a lot of experience in the national team and in their teams. Here are the winners of the League, the Europa League and the Champions League. We try to get the best out of each generation ”, reflected Busquets.
The captain’s leadership on his return after passing the covid-19 gave a package to the team that had not been appreciated in the first two meetings. His presence offered a calm and naturalness in the direction of the game from which a more fluid and clairvoyant offensive plan emerged than in previous matches. The magnetism exercised by the Barcelona player emanated a sense of security in the rest of the team that had not been appreciated against the Swedes and Poles.
Not even the failed penalty broke the selection. In the first goal, Koke’s claims to Morata when the ball fell after repelled the crossbar by Sarabia’s blow was another example of his trade. “Don’t touch the goalkeeper,” the rojiblanco shouted at the Juventus forward to prevent the referee from signaling a foul in the face of any possible contact in the small area, where the regulations dictate that goalkeepers are untouchable.
The result that gave the most seasoned team coat presented against the Slovaks suggests that Luis Enrique will keep it to face Croatia. The tough skin of the Croats, who compete inflamed by a strong nationalist sentiment, will put to the test that mix of veterans and novices that Luis Enrique tries to assemble from the first day of concentration in the Ciudad del Fútbol of Las Rozas. After the draw with Poland, the Asturian coach insisted to his players on the need to show themselves as a more forceful team not only in scoring, but also when making tactical fouls. “Nothing happens if we do one and get back together, we have to be smart,” warned Koke in an interview with this newspaper in the run-up to the match with Slovakia.
“We can play against them, we showed it in the second game of the League of Nations, although now it is a completely different team, full of young players,” Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic warned yesterday, who relies on his old guard led by Modric to stop Spain.
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