Optimism for ‘new Spain’ as Luis Enrique opens with win at Wembley
MADRID: “This is the new Spain”, hailed the country’s top sports daily Marca, after Luis Enrique’s new dawn began with an affirming 2-1 win over England at Wembley on Saturday. Spain dropped to ninth in the FIFA rankings, three places below England, after their World Cup defeat to Russia but there was little doubting the more dominant team in London.
The excellent Saul Niguez, who cancelled out Marcus Rashford’s opener, was the stand-out performer while Rodrigo Moreno’s winner brought a rush of Spanish optimism for the future under their new coach. “Luis Enrique has started big, with a victory at Wembley,” wrote Madrid daily, Diario AS. “A triumph that opens the Nations League and closes the nightmare of the World Cup.”
His promise was for evolution not revolution and Spain delivered, combining possession with spontaneity and precision, the type of which was so lacking during their stilted performances in Russia. “Spain has not lost the touch (and it should not) but aims to be much more versatile,” wrote Marca. “The team was more vertical and much more aggressive without the ball. They used high pressure and England suffered.”
Luis Enrique’s task is not only to tweak but convince the players, and fans, that adjustment is the best way forward. Victories will bring belief. “It is a game that reinforces us in a special way,” Spain’s new coach said. “Because not every day do you win in a stadium like this.”
Barcelona daily, Mundo Deportivo, noted Luis Enrique’s dynamism on the touchline: “The Spaniard put his stamp on the team from the first minute. He spent the game standing, giving instructions, correcting, screaming, suffering and applauding from the bench.”
El Pais attached a wider significance to the contest, circling it as a fork in the road for La Roja. “Few decisions in the recent history of Spanish football have had as much weight as the first game of Luis Enrique,” it wrote. “After five years of progressive deterioration of the style that put the team at the top of the world, the hope of a return to greatness had dissipated.”
Among the innovations was Saul, who “personified the change after being wasted in Russia”, according to Marca, with the Atletico Madrid midfielder drawing praise from all corners of the Spanish press.
“Saul showed the injustice of his World Cup ostracism because he was the best,” crowed AS. “He was the leader of the team.” Luis Enrique agreed. “Saul has a beast of a physique, he’s smart, he’s a very complete player,” he said.
This was also an examination for the old as well as the new, in particular David de Gea, who endured a disappointing World Cup, with the suggestion that Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga could take his place in goal.
Luis Enrique branded the criticism “ridiculous” and his show of faith was arguably more important than either the instinctive, early save from Rashford or the fumbled catch under pressure from Danny Welbeck late on.
“You have to smile for De Gea,” wrote Marca. “The United goalkeeper has always had good hands but the problem was in his head. He has the coach’s confidence and now he has to recover his own.” It was not the perfect performance and there is work to do. Spain’s high pressing left them vulnerable on the counter-attack, which England exploited brilliantly for the opening goal.
“It is the risk that our game carries,” Sergio Ramos said. “When you open up the pitch, any missed passes will leave you disorganised.” “The strategy is clearly offensive,” AS reflected. “But almost nobody looks back.”
There was also disappointment with Isco, who is expected to become a talisman for this new era but failed to make his mark. “He did not participate as he likes, nor did he lead the team and he was somewhat lost in the left wing,” AS wrote. “Until the second half he hardly participated,” added Mundo Deportivo. It was a small blot on an otherwise rejuvenating night for Spain.
Earlier, England captain Harry Kane was finally acquainted with the Golden Boot he won at the World Cup ahead of the Three Lions’ Nations League opener against Spain on Saturday. A near capacity 90,000 crowd at Wembley came to show their appreciation of England’s run to the semi-finals in Russia for the first time in 28 years.
Kane, who scored six goals in seven games, was presented with the award by England manager Gareth Southgate before kick-off. To mark the occasion, the Spurs striker wore a special pair of gold boots for the clash with the 2010 world champions. – AFP