Aspas? Praised Thiago? What the Spaniards still have to do
Julen Lopetegui is not afraid of the fact that most of the experts see Spain at the top of their game before the finals in Russia. The 51-year-old has more nerves to lose to Portugal in his opening game – also in view of his recent past.
Is Spain ready for the title again? Eight years after the great success in South Africa, the “Furia Roja” wants to perform on the biggest possible stage. Julen Lopetegui seems to be the right coach for this mission: he has not lost any of his 20 matches with the national team (14 wins, six draws). The goal ratio of 61:13 is particularly impressive. One advantage is certainly that most of the players have known him for much longer. In 2012 Lopetegui won the European Championship with Spain’s U 19, in 2013 with the U 21.
Especially with the appearances against Germany (1:1) and Argentina (6:1) the 2010 World Champion caused a stir. Lopetegui’s dry commentary in an interview with “Marca”, the kicker’s ESM partner: “I don’t try so hard to imagine anything at test matches. Forget the past, it’s hard to draw any concrete conclusions about the present in football.”
Better for the Spanish, as the latest 1-1 draw with Switzerland and a 1-0 draw with Tunisia in the dress rehearsal on the Iberian Peninsula hardly tore anyone’s fists off. “After a 6-1 draw with Argentina, people thought we would score eight goals for Switzerland and ten for Tunisia,” attackers Iago Aspas commented smugly.
Just a striker: Perhaps the most exciting position
The position in the attack is perhaps the most exciting in the Spanish structure: Aspas (Celta Vigo) and Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid) and Rodrigo Moreno (FC Valencia) are fighting for the starting spot. “We want to play all three, everything else would be bad,” Rodrigo Moreno recently explained, adding: “Iago is extremely versatile, Diego Costa is a classic penalty-area forward – and I am somewhere in between”.
Especially the lively Aspas enjoys great appreciation among the fans and Lopetegui. The 30-year-old only made his national debut in November 2017, but scored 2-2 at Wembley against England. He scored five goals in ten internationals and proved his killer instinct with only 353 minutes (out of a possible 990).
Moreover, the left foot will not bring unrest to the team: “If I have to sit on the bench to cheer for my teammates, that’s no problem either. But I’d like to play from the beginning. The decision is made by Julen. For me it’s a dream to be here at all – whether I play five, 15 or 45 minutes. My numbers in the national team? They’re just that – numbers.” However, Lopetegui will undoubtedly have to take his opponent’s point of view when making his choice.
Muffed start? Not again!
And the first one will be European Champion Portugal on Friday. “They are more than Cristiano Ronaldo, they proved that at the European Championships,” warned Rodrigo Moreno. Lopetegui, who will probably have to give up the tarnished right-back Daniel Carvajal at the start of the match, followed suit: “We have to put all our energy into the game. We must approach it with confidence, it will help us to win.” Prelude defeats? There was something. 2010 Spain went swimming against Switzerland (0:1), in 2014 there was even the humiliating 1:5 against the Netherlands.
A victory would strengthen the exceptional position of the Spanish. Experts see the “Furia Roja” as the big favourite in Russia. “That’s something I can’t control, for example. We just have to accept it without letting ourselves go crazy,” Lopetegui remarked. Forecasts would ultimately “not help his team win the tournament”. His approach: “Such a competition punishes the smallest mistakes. But if you think about things carefully, it reduces the chances that football will punish you.”
And what about Bavaria’s Thiago?
The last question: Will the only Bundesliga professional start in the Spanish squad? Bavaria’s Thiago has recently been used more frequently in defensive midfield. Background: “He’s already played this for FC Bayern, for example in the second leg against Real Madrid. Thiago can quickly adapt to new positions and has our full confidence,” confirmed Lopetegui. Spanish newspapers see Atletico Madrid’s competitor Koke just in front after the Tunisia game. However, it will take more than eleven players to bring the golden trophy back to Spain anyway.