DOHA, Qatar — The previous 4 instances Bayern Munich have performed Barcelona within the Champions League, the mixture rating has been 11-0 to the Bundesliga facet. From that, you may draw the conclusion that Spain don’t have any likelihood of their World Cup conflict with towards Germany on Sunday.
Why? Because, from these Bayern groups, Germany coach Hansi Flick can area Manuel Neuer, Josh Kimmich, Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala, Leon Goretzka, Leroy Sane, Niklas Sule and Thomas Muller at Al Bayt Stadium. And as a result of in Luis Enrique’s squad this weekend you may discover Jordi Alba, Eric Garcia, Sergio Busquets, Ansu Fati, Pedri, Gavi, Alejandro Balde and Ferran Torres — all of whom have been battered by German may, menace and muscle over the previous two seasons.
Those 4 matches have been dramatic, clear-cut demonstrations of energy, precision, velocity, top and sporting aggression. And we’re not even counting the 8-2 Bayern win over the Blaugrana within the 2020-21 quarterfinal. It started to really feel like German soccer was actively attempting to stamp the life out of Spain’s extra delicate, possession-based, technically pleasant artistry.
So comprehensively was the cream of Spain demolished, at membership stage, you could wager Pedri, Gavi, Busquets, Alba et al. knew exactly how Costa Rica felt once they left the Al Thumama pitch on Wednesday — thrashed 7-0. After such magnificent effervescence from La Roja, towards opponents beforehand famed for his or her defensive organisation, two questions instantly come up: is this way transferable to the essential Group E match towards Germany? And, ought to their followers fear that newfound complacency and cockiness can corrode Spain’s readiness for a titanic battle?
Last query first. I used to be within the participant tunnel, working, when Luis Enrique’s victorious facet got here off the pitch. No shouting, no glee, no boisterous celebrations — should you’d not seen the match or the scoreboard you’d have thought it was half-time with issues balanced at 0-0. Not a touch of overexuberance or swagger. Faces set, severe method — the environment was: Job carried out, what’s subsequent?
One of Luis Enrique’s fast analytical reactions was to say: “Look, we might be beaten in the next match but it will not, under any circumstance, be because we’ve relaxed after this result.” It’s value believing him too. The 52-year-old Asturian has woven a magic spell on his personnel. Spain’s footballers are satisfied about his plan, undergo his guidelines, are infused together with his “attack, press, ambition” philosophy. In truth they’re, whisper it, actually having fun with themselves whereas domiciled at Qatar University.
Whether the brutal destruction of Costa Rica says particular issues about Spain overcoming the massive bodily, athletic and attitudinal benefits which Germany’s Bayern core have just lately enforced on Spain’s Barca contingent is a separate matter. Every match is a brand new universe of element, mentality, kind, luck and ways.
However one factor is crystal clear: the throbbing, upbeat, evangelical message which has been thumping out of the Spain coaching HQ since they received right here final week was telling the reality. I’ll share a few of the statements we have been given on and off the document:
“We’re a band of brothers.”
“The atmosphere is spectacular.”
“We are a group of friends enjoying ourselves and pulling for one another.”
“There’s no way that this group will let everyone down…”
I am unable to overemphasise the shimmering hum of ambition, dedication, perspective, dedication.
Now, do all of these emotions negate the truth that Spain are a younger, uncooked group who lack an outright, punishing purpose scorer within the type of Fernando Torres, David Villa and even Raul in his day? Not on their very own. But not solely are nearly all of Spain’s gamers hitting kind simply on the proper time they appear recent, fast of limb and thoughts genuinely relishing the best way wherein their coach presents them freedom to exit and play superbly.
It’s a searing reminiscence for me that within the days constructing as much as Spain’s 2010 World Cup win Xavi stopped the FIFA referee briefing which was being performed by Horacio Elisondo and insisted: “Enough of all this about the way you’ll enforce the rules — go and tell Sepp Blatter that the pitches are poor, that the grass needs to be cut and watered and that he’s giving a premium to defensive, boring football.”
That model of La Roja wasn’t simply in South Africa to win, they wished to assault, to entertain, to make soccer look stunning. This 12 months’s group yearn for that too.
Vicente del Bosque’s staff received the 2010 World Cup with the bottom purpose complete in historical past, slogging their means throughout churned-up, slow-playing surfaces and, typically, taking part in towards both defensive or thuggish rivals (semifinal opponents Germany excluded.) Back then, Germany coach Joachim Low adored the Spanish verve, technicality, imaginative and prescient and fervour for passing. German soccer, within the ensuing years, maintained its style for tall, onerous, aggressive, quick footballers however relentlessly added higher technical expertise, higher tactical appreciation. At membership stage, at the very least, the borrowing of the Spanish template, whereas mixing it with conventional Teutonic values has labored a deal with.
Cut to immediately once more and Spain are again in that fledgling state of eager to carry out with thrills, expertise, daring, incessant passing velocity. Luis Enrique has allow them to off the leash. They genuinely all consider, as Xavi vehemently said 12 years in the past, that the World Cup must be a spot of leisure, extravagance, magnificence… a spot the place dreamers can dream and inspiration is injected into youngsters watching throughout on the planet. Most of the opposite sides appear glad to financial institution on no worse than a 0-0 and hope for a fortunate late purpose or two. That perspective would make Spain’s principal gamers vomit with disgust.
What was attention-grabbing about how La Roja handled Costa Rica was the best way wherein even with three, 4 or 5 objectives tucked previous Keylor Navas they continued to go for the throat. Not conserving vitality, no unconscious foot off the fuel and no coasting out the final quarter-hour. Spain continued to reveal exactly the ambition and complete dedication to attacking which Luis Enrique has been promising. If they’re 1-0 up with 5 minutes left in an enormous match later this event, then count on them to do exactly the identical factor.
“Don’t get me wrong, our job is to win so I’m not going to reject a victory where we haven’t played well” he advised me with amusing the opposite day. “But we’ll never die of fear, if we ever have to go down it’ll be with ambition, on the front foot and trying to beat whoever we meet.”
I like that sort of discuss, notably from those that then stroll the stroll. Did you watch them? Didn’t they gentle up an in any other case overly cautious, overly boring World Cup? Now, nevertheless, comes a special sort of take a look at.
Germany are the proverbial wounded animal. Twice over. Were they to lose on Sunday, there is a good likelihood that they’re out of a World Cup group stage for the second time in 4 years. Utter and full catastrophe for Die Mannschaft. Moreover, they’ll understandably be looking for cold-blooded revenge for the 6-0 thrashing they took off Spain the final time these two sides met within the UEFA Nations League again in November 2020. In truth, you’d hope Flick has ready a pleasant Black Forest gateaux or another Bavarian delight with which to thank Luis Enrique prematch. That six-goal humiliation of Low’s Germany in Seville two years in the past was the ultimate straw for him and the 2014 World Cup-winning coach introduced his withdrawal from the place a number of months afterward. Flick received the job. Now it is all-in.
Another factor which stood out about Spain’s heavenly seven towards Costa Rica was the best way wherein their coach is within the zone. Marco Asensio has been handled like a spare half at Real Madrid this season, out of contract in June and with solely three begins out of a doable 21 matches to this point. Yet he is named Spain’s first-choice centre-forward and scores. Torres, subjugated by Ousmane Dembele‘s requirement to play on the precise at Barcelona, is restored to his pure place and scores twice. Balde — aged 18, a Barcelona B squad member as just lately as August and referred to as up by Spain as a last-minute substitute — comes on and helps create a purpose with a dash and dribble which ate up two thirds of the pitch. Welcome to the World Cup, child. Dani Olmo, off the again of a brutal few months out injured, begins as a substitute of Ansu Fati and never solely scores however will get the essential opener and provides an help, too. And Nico Williams, solely within the squad since September, is introduced in, assists the very important purpose to win in Portugal and attain the Nations League semifinal then towards Costa Rica and units up Carlos Soler‘s purpose (all however one among La Roja‘s 5 subs both scored or created a purpose towards Costa Rica.)
It all provides as much as the reality that, for the time being, Spain’s coach seems to own the Midas contact. When the groups come out on the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, Germany will likely be considering: they’ll do what Bayern did to Barca, whereas the Spanish gamers will all be sticking to the mantra: “In Luis Enrique we trust.”
Whoever prevails, that is assured to be exactly the sort of open, attacking and hopefully thrilling contest which this odd World Cup requires.