Enrique never doubted Spain challenge
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Given their recent struggles in major tournaments, few would have seen Spain as a contender going into Euro 2020 and those relatively low expectations would hardly have been raised after Luis Enrique named the youngest squad of the tournament.
Even die-hard Spain fans will have been struggling to come to terms with the fact that not one Real Madrid player made the final cut, with Sergio Ramos’ ongoing injury problems eventually ruling him out of Enrique’s thoughts.
The coach himself has had to contend with criticism over his squad selection but he, and his players, have overcome a slow start to stand on the cusp of another final appearance, and are two games away from what would be their fourth European Championship success, and third in the last four tournaments.
In a similar mould to Italy, Spain lack what may be perceived as a superstar in their ranks, another reason to doubt perhaps the credibility of their title credentials.
Enrique insists though that he always felt that Spain should have been considered as a challenger, and the fact they have made it all the way to the semi-finals has only reinforced his belief that they can lift the trophy.
“I always said we were one of the eight candidates to win the European Championship and now we are among the four best,” said Enrique.
“It would be ridiculous to be in the semi-finals and not think about taking one step more. This is the objective.”
Sergio Busquets, whose return to the side following a Covid-enforced absence has signalled an upturn in form, has offered his backing to the coach, and has revealed every player in the squad is singing from Enrique’s hymn sheet.
“I knew that Luis Enrique’s work was very good,” the Barcelona midfielder said. “It’s rare to see a top coach working with a national team because normally such coaches are with a team during the season.
“We’re lucky and privileged to have Luis Enrique; he’s developing his idea, working with his group, with the players he believes in, with a great ambition reflected on the field.”
After being held to opening draws by Sweden and Poland, Spain found their goalscoring touch by beating Slovakia 5-0 to secure their progress to the knockout stages, before bagging another five in a 5-3 win over Croatia, after extra-time, in the round of 16.
La Roja needed penalties to get past Switzerland in the quarter-finals and they should expect no favours from Italy, who have impressed many with both their attack play alongside their defensive solidity.
Roberto Mancini’s men won all of their group games without conceding and although their defence has been breached in the knockouts, they performed brilliantly to thwart Belgium for the majority of the game last time out.
Leonardo Spinazzola will be a big miss for the Azzurri while Alessandro Florenzi is a doubt, although Pablo Sarabia may yet be ruled out for Spain with a thigh injury sustained against Switzerland.
Busquets is well aware of the task ahead and is determined that Spain play their natural game and dictate proceedings at Wembley.
“They have very good players on the ball like Jorginho, [Marco] Verratti and [Lorenzo] Insigne,” Busquets continued. “They’re very good players who are very comfortable on the ball, but we’re going to try to prevent it from being like that and impose ourselves on the game.”