Euro 2020 has reached the semi-final stage and Spain head into the last four looking to reclaim the crown they lost in 2016.
Spain won consecutive European Championships in 2008 and 2012, either side of their World Cup victory in 2010. But by the time the last Euros came around, that was a squad in decline and after limping through their group they fell to Turkey in the round-of-16.
Now five years on, with a new-look side almost wholly revamped under the guidance of Luis Enrique (the last man to win a Champions League with Barcelona), they will be confident that they have what it takes to make the difference.
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The best players Spain are bringing to Euro 2020:
Goalkeeper: Unai Simon
The Spanish national team goalkeeper seems to be a cursed spot in that anyone who gets the role or comes near it sees their form dip. None of the three choices to mind the net went into the tournament in fantastic form, but Unai Simon got the nod and has performed well so far, despite making a horrendous error against Croatia in the round-of-16.
Defence: Aymeric Laporte
With Sergio Ramos out, there was a lot of hope and expectations on Aymeric Laporte to gel into the team very quickly. The Manchester City defender, now 27, hadn’t played senior international football before May having been ignored by France for years despite rising through the ranks. He was called up by Deschamps for 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria and the Netherlands but watched on from the bench in both games. He was also included in the squad for matches against Albania and Andorra in qualifying for this tournament but pulled out due to injury and didn’t get another chance.
The centre-back is eligible for Luis Enrique’s side thanks to his Spanish great-grandparents, who were from the Basque region thus also allowing him to come through the Bilbao youth system in the first place. Former Spain boss Julen Lopetegui had previously made attempts to bring Laporte into his squad in 2016.
While Barcelona’s sensation Pedri has been starting Spain at the tender age of 18, the key man in that midfield has to be Rodri. The Manchester City midfielder has calmly and quietly taken over from Sergio Busquets as the chief conductor of the Spanish side, and arrived at Euro 2020 as a Premier League champion to boot. Rodri is a solid defender and a superb passer that knows when to press, when to sweep and when to spray the ball forward to his playmakers.
Attack: Ferran Torres
The youngster bagged a hat-trick against Germany in November and his production for Man City, especially in the Champions League, marked him out as a potentially prolific wing-forward at Euro 2020. The intelligence of his movement coupled with the crispness of his shooting technique has helped him deliver on that potential, with two goals and an assist at this tournament so far.
The head coach:
Luis Enrique is on his second spell as Spain boss, having first been given the job back in 2018 after Spain’s debacle at the 2018 World Cup where they sacked Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament. His first spell saw them play six games, winning four of them. At the start of 2019, he stepped down to tend to a family matter, with the implication being that one day he would return to the role.
That day came in late 2019, after his assistant Roberto Moreno had led the team through Euro 2020 qualification. With Lucho back in charge, Spain looked more ropey. However, they put in a masterclass in the 6-0 win against Germany at the end of 2020, and have since made an unbeaten start to World Cup qualifying.
Lucho has no international management experience at major tournaments, but he guided Barcelona to a treble in 2015 so his ability to handle the big stage and get his team to deliver on his plans is unquestioned. He could be just the man Spain need to get back on top.
Luis Enrique’s Spain have a largely uncomplicated style of playing that follows the passing blueprint set out by Pep Guardiola in 2008 and adopted for Spain by Vicente Del Bosque in 2009. Simon sprays the ball out from the back (or try to) and get attacks started. Ball-playing centre-backs push possession forwards through midfield.
From here it is very familiar, as we’d expect a midfield loaded up with technical talent to dominate the ball as well as drive it forward to the wingers, who see more play under Luis Enrique than most Spain bosses. The former Blaugrana boss places an emphasis on direct, vertical play rather than extended bouts of possession. The likes of Koke and Pedri are key to moving the ball through midfield swiftly.
Spain’s wingers are tasked with providing thrust and width but also are often also the nation’s most potent goal threat, as Germany found out to their dismay when Ferran Torres smashed a hat-trick past them. The fluid way Spain set up their front three has led to goals and a side as unpredictable and hard to stop as any other at Euro 2020.
This potential line-up has a rather different feel to it than that which was eliminated from the World Cup by Russia at the round-of-16 stage, with Pique and David Silva retiring from international duty, while the likes of Diego Costa, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets have had more limited time on the pitch. And there’s the small matter of Sergio Ramos not being called up due to injury.
The form guide
Euro 2020 Qualifying: WWDDWWWWWW
Spain breezed through their qualifying group with a near-flawless record. They scored a staggering 31 goals and conceded just five, with a Josh King penalty for Norway being the only time they let a goal in at home. Their group’s strongest opponents were Sweden, who they beat at home and drew with away.
Recent fixtures (90 mins): DDWDDWDWW
Under Luis Enrique, Spain have been less dominant in the new Nations League season and friendlies, albeit against a higher standard of opponent for the most part. They even conspired to lose away to Ukraine.
But they ended 2020 on an extreme high by firebombing Germany 6-0, unleashing the true potential of Lucho’s Spain, and booked their spot in 2021’s Nations League semi-finals. Spain kicked off the Euros with successive draws against Sweden and Poland but secured their last-16 place with a 5-0 thumping of Slovakia. Since then, they’ve drawn both knockout games, too, needing extra time to beat Croatia 5-3, and a penalty shootout to get beyond Switzerland last time out.
Chances of winning:
Spain were not among the favourites for Euro 2020 at the start. But after reaching the final four, they’re priced at 3/1 to win Euro 2020 with Sky Bet, behind Italy (2/1) and England (11/8), but ahead of Denmark (10/1).
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