“You seem a little worried about the pressure,” said Luis Enrique. Well, Yes. Anxiety is a low statement. Frightened, it can. On Tuesday morning at the Las Rojas headquarters in Spain, as the Spanish media waited at the gates in the sunshine, a topic of discussion dominated. How worried they were, how dangerous it had just become. It’s — real. The World Cup is only a year away and, they feared, they would not be there. No matter how much you tell them, “No, you’ll be fine,” the doubts will not go away and pessimism clings to them.
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Now, you might be tempted to pull out the world’s smallest violin and ask (exactly) who cares about journalists? It’s not about that. To them“And you will be right. But sometimes they are a reflection of something wider. Their worries are also the worries of others. For all the cynicism and stupidity, sometimes they are also true.
And no, it’s not about journalists, but it’s about Spain. And for Spain, there is really the risk of not making it to the World Cup. This will be the first time since 1974.
Spain have not missed a major tournament in almost 30 years, when they failed to reach the 1992 Euros, and only eight teams did so at the time. In the construction of that Euro, they did not even play their last game, dismissed as irrelevant to a team that was already out. Since then, he has competed in 14 consecutive competitions. They won three of them, of course; He then went three times in a row without winning a single knockout game in the final.
Rodri said earlier this week that Spain was “not bound” to participate in the World Cup, prompting many to respond: “Yes, you are.” When asked about his team-mate’s comments, Danny Carvajal shrugged off the point: “Spain are bound to win every game.” That’s not true, but not being in the World Cup would be a big failure, not seen in almost half a century. When he landed in Greece before Thursday’s game, every question in the prematch news conference was about pressure. So the answer of Louis Enrique.
“Happy pressure!” He applauded. “I’m under pressure. Ever since I took out a loan at Sporting at the age of 19, I’ve been bearing it. I like it that way; I like a little bit of action. Playing on a pressure team. Spain wouldn’t be without one. We play better under pressure, we have shown that. “
And yet these were not just questions; That was it too. When he announced his squad a week ago, the Spanish coach admitted that the pressure was on. He talked about the Nation League, in which Spain reached the final against France last month, a kind of “free hit” – a chance less than a responsibility for a small glory. It was different. Now, given his concern about the pressure, how much he was worried and how little he believed, he admitted: “Maybe I was a little too honest last week.”
Maybe, but in any case, they are almost there.
On Thursday, to SelectionThe relief of Sweden was what Spain did during their full potential: to face a surprise defeat in Georgia and to suddenly cast doubt on their way to the World Cup. Spain had an almost 33% chance of topping Group B, but lost 2-0 to Sweden, followed by a 1-0 defeat by Spain in Athens. A draw against the Swedes in Seville on Sunday (greatbritishbrekkie.org.uk +, live stream at 2:30 pm ET) By Spain.
Greece had not lost at home in more than two years, but Pablo Sarabia’s penalty in the first half proved enough to see Spain win. Despite a number of injuries – Spain reached Athens without Fatti, Pedri, Ferran Torres, Michael O’Reilly, Marcos Lorente or Gerard Moreno, while Eric Garcia and Jeremy Pino were forced to withdraw – they continued.
No one was more surprised than Raul de Tomas, who made his debut for the national team, finishing with almost an hour of play. “I was a little surprised when they announced the lineup but then I got out of it and started focusing on playing well,” he said. “Alvaro and I were changing situations and we were relaxed, we were well connected. It wouldn’t have happened if Luis Enrique hadn’t called me. I’m grateful to him.”
Given the pace of change in Thursday’s games, they should get to the point they need, yet it is often difficult to know what to think of this Spain team. This is the team that beat Italy in the semi-finals of the Nation League and was better than France in the final … but lost. The team that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and played better football than their opponents, lost to Italy on penalties. Better football, perhaps, than anyone else in a tournament. This is the team that took Germany to the final four of the Nation League after six in Seville.
However, the team can dominate the game, but not always in the penalty areas; The team that seems to be weak despite playing well. Against Greece, with 75% possession and total dominance, they needed a questionable penalty to win 1-0; They also needed a Greek goal which was denied for offside.
Spain are the only team to have won just one match in 90 minutes at the Euros. It could not find a way out of Sweden or Poland, and a fine was needed against Switzerland. It finds itself in this situation because they have already been held hostage by Greece – at home, in Grenada – and were justifiably beaten by Sweden. The team needed a 92nd minute goal to beat Georgia in Tbilisi and a 90th minute goal to complete a 2-0 victory over Kosovo in Pristina.
The loss to Sweden was the first since 1993 when Spain lost one of their World Cup qualifiers.
After all, this is not the situation Spain is accustomed to, although there have been moments and bad results – a 3-2 loss to Cyprus and David Healy’s hat trick for Northern Ireland. They had to beat Malta by 11 goals to qualify for Euro 1984. Surprisingly, they led 12-1 with a 3-1 lead at half time. To reach Euro 1988, they needed seven goals in their final game to guarantee qualification … just to draw the group leader Romania and thus save them from that responsibility. To qualify for the 1994 World Cup, they had to face 10 men in the final qualifying game against Denmark.
Moving on to the 2014 World Cup, they had to win in Paris to avoid reaching the playoffs. One Pedro goal was enough; Well, he and keeper Victor Valdes had a great performance. And twice they Done Must qualify through playoffs. In 2004, they drew with Ukraine and Northern Ireland and lost to Greece in Zaragoza. They had to play again, and to reach the Euro through the playoffs, Norway had to win a total of 5-1. In 2006, they beat Slovakia by the same scoreline to reach the World Cup.
So yes, there was pressure. And lots of it. And Louis Enrique knows that; Sitting in front of the press, he could see it, feel it. Listen to it. More and more. It was in the room with them, not so much an elephant that was overlooked, but a herd of them that everyone was talking about. And it is there because it is in the country. And in the team, of course. Another element to manage Luis Enrique.
“We are in a good position,” he told reporters after the victory in Greece. In terms of attitude, my players performed well and showed enthusiasm. “Of course I believe we will qualify directly for the World Cup on Sunday. A draw against Sweden will be enough for us to qualify, but I assure you we will go out to win.”
Spain’s captain against Greece, Coke, strengthened that sentiment. “It was very important for us to win today’s match. Spain has to participate in the World Cup. We are all desperate to qualify for the World Cup.”
Reaching the World Cup is a process for any team, of course, no country is guaranteed a place (except the hosts). After a busy week and a harder road than expected, Spain is almost there.
“I’m glad,” Luis Enrique said in the midst of the chaos on Wednesday. By Thursday night, he was still happy. Win on Sunday and there will be no way to wipe the smile from his face.