Luis Enrique says Spain have no plans to manipulate draw and avoid Brazil | Spain


Luis Enrique, the Spain coach, has asked himself whether it might be better not to win Group E and instead finish second to avoid Brazil, which is precisely why his team will not try to engineer an easy route through the World Cup.

The selección are top of the group and victory against Japan on Thursdaywould guarantee progress as group winners, but they also know a point would see them through to the last 16 and avoid Brazil in the quarter-final

“We have reflected on it,” Luis Enrique said, “but from a professional point of view, imagine that we speculate. ‘OK, we want to be second, that’s in our interests.’ We get to the 95th minute and in both games it’s 0-0, 0-0, [thinking:] ‘Everything’s going great.’ And then Costa Rica go and score and Japan score. And in 15 seconds you’re out because you have been speculating for 90 minutes. Or the other way round: Germany are winning 5-0 and we’re drawing and that will do and then Japan score and you’re out.

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“When you’re a very good team and you want to play seven games, you want to be first. We play the team that’s second in Group F, right? And then in the quarter-final … in theory it’s Brazil. OK, great. We play Brazil then. We can’t count like the milkmaid.”

The milkmaid’s metaphor is an equivalent to counting your chickens, a parable in which the protagonist believes the milk her cow produces will allow her to buy a goat, a horse and a farm until one day she trips and spills all the milk.

Luis Enrique also drew on a real-world parallel, citing summer’s basketball European championshipwhen Croatia deliberately missed a late free throw to finish third in the group rather than second, allowing them to go into what they thought was the easier half of the draw that included Spain, who they wanted to face. They lost their first knockout game to Finland and didn’t even get to face Spain, who went on to win it.

“Elite sport doesn’t let you speculate,” Luis Enrique said. “To win a World Cup, you have to beat everyone, or everyone you face. So that’s what we’re going to try to do.

Spain’s creative decision to play Rodri in defence is paying off at World Cup | World Cup 2022


With Gerard Piqué retiring from football and Sergio Ramos overlooked for the World Cup squad, 2022 has been the end of an era for Spanish centre-backs. Luis Enrique took some criticism for not calling up Ramos – the most capped player in Spain’s history – but the manager stuck to his guns and deserves credit for doing so.

Luis Enrique selected four centre-backs in his squad for Qatar: Aymeric Laporte, Pau Torres and Eric García, who went to the Euros last summer, and the versatile youngster Hugo Guillamón. Yet, despite the availability of these experienced centre-backs, Luis Enrique has used Rodri alongside his Manchester City teammate Laporte at the heart of defence in Spain’s first two games in Qatar.

The dilemma for Spain, as usual, is that they have too many brilliant central midfielders. Gavi and Pedri, despite their youth, are guaranteed starters considering their technical quality, and they benefit from having their experienced Barcelona teammate, Sergio Busquets, alongside them to anchor the midfield.

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Busquets, the only World Cup winner in the squad, is now 34 but we all saw how much Spain struggled without him at the Euros last year. He missed Spain’s first two games at the tournament and they laboured to draws with Sweden and Poland. It’s a tricky one for Luis Enrique: he doesn’t want to lose his captain but he knows Busquets no longer has the legs to control the middle of the park. Given the make-up of his squad, Luis Enrique’s decision to pick Busquets at the base of the midfield and use Rodri in the centre of defence could be a masterstroke.

Rodri was used at the heart of defence by Pep Guardiola – obviously – on a handful of occasions in the 2019-20 campaign, but he is inexperienced in the role. Throwing him in at the deep end at a World Cup was a risk, but Rodri has handled it well. At 6ft 2in, he has the physicality to play the role and he is brilliant at dispossessing opponents – only Declan Rice (82) has won possession in the midfield third more times than Rodri (70) in the Premier League this season. Rodri has the tools to excel at centre-back in the modern game, given his tenacity off the ball and impressive distribution when in possession.

In the long term, Rodri will surely take over from Busquets as the anchor of the Spain midfield – the player in the team who dictates the tempo and helps them dominate possession. His performances at the Euros last year suggest he wasn’t quite ready for the role, but he is developing under Guardiola and will no doubt have a future further up the pitch for the national team. For now, though, Busquets brings experience and balance to the side, and picking the Barcelona captain remains Spain’s best option.

Gavi and Pedri have the freedom to push on and make nuisances of themselves in the final third, safe in the knowledge that Busquets is easing the defensive burden behind them. With such a short lead-in to this World Cup, it helps that the three of them have been working together and forging a relationship and understanding at Barcelona.

When Spain have the ball, Rodri steps into midfield to help build up play. He is a natural at keeping the ball – he has made more passes (1,203) than any other player in the Premier League this season – and he gives Spain more control in games. Picking Rodri against Costa Rica made sense. Spain were expected to dominate the ball and obliterate their opponents – which they did in some style, winning 7-0 – so having an extra midfielder at the back to help build up play seemed smart. Using Rodri against the much tougher Germany, though, was a huge show of faith by Luis Enrique.

Aymeric Laporte (left) has helped his Manchester City teammate Rodri (right) settle in defence for Spain.
Aymeric Laporte (left) has helped his Manchester City teammate Rodri (right) settle in defence for Spain. Photograph: Zabulon Laurent/Shutterstock

It may seem harsh on Torres and García, who are fine ball playing centre-backs. García had the best pass success rate (95.5%) in the squad at the Euros last summer, while Torres (93.9%) ranked third. So why has Luis Enrique opted for Rodri? Perhaps because he offers better balance at the back. Torres, Laporte and García all prefer to play on the left side of a centre-back pairing. With Rodri dropping back into the right-sided role, Laporte is able to stay on the left, where he is more comfortable. This results in a more stable defensive unit.

Bar a minor lapse against Germany on Sunday – when he failed to contain Jamal Musiala in the buildup to Niclas Füllkrug’s equaliser – Rodri’s deployment at centre-back has been a success story so far. If Spain go all the way in the tournament, Luis Enrique’s brave, creative decision to partner Laporte with Rodri will be a key reason behind their success.



Germany’s Hansi Flick takes heart from hard-fought point against Spain | World Cup 2022


Hansi Flick said he believes Germany’s draw with Spain will help them strike a rhythm after the substitute Niclas Füllkrug’s late equaliser left both teams feeling confident of reaching the last 16.

The Werder Bremen striker, who scored on his Germany debut on the eve of the tournament, in a friendly win against Oman, cancelled out Álvaro Morata’s second-half strike to boost Germany’s hopes of avoiding an embarrassing group-stage exit at a second successive World Cup.

Germany will qualify for the last 16 if they beat Costa Rica and Japan lose to Group E leaders Spain on Thursday. If Spain and Japan draw, then Germany would need to beat Costa Rica by at least two goals, or by a single-goal margin providing they score more goals than Japan do against Spain.

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Leroy Sané rounded the Spain goalkeeper Unai Simón deep into six minutes of second-half stoppage time but was unable to get a shot away after overrunning the ball and in the first half Antonio Rüdiger had a header from a free-kick correctly ruled offside.

“We knew what it was all about and what was at stake,” Flick, the Germany manager, said. “We saw a Spanish team that knows how to play. At the end we had a very good chance but unfortunately we didn’t hit the back of the net.

“Things start to develop when you start to win so maybe this will give us a boost to give us the self-confidence to score goals. We know that this was just the first step and in the next match against Costa Rica we want to create the conditions so that we can go through to the round of 16.”

Luis Enrique, the Spain head coach, said the defender Jordi Alba, who assisted Morata for his goal shortly after the hour, deserves praise, not scrutiny. “What can I say about Jordi Alba? He is a top player, just as [Sergio] Busquets. Sometimes people get tired of older players … Jordi Alba is the best wing-back in the final third; he still defends so well, he is a top player, just like Busquets.

“People have been trying to retire him [Busquets] for so many years and I hope I can convince Busquets to play another World Cup because I’m sure we can improve when he is on the pitch.”

On Sunday morning Luis Enrique revealed in a social media post that the game would carry extra significance because it would have been the 13th birthday of his daughter Xana, who died of cancer in 2019.

“It was a very special day for me and my family,” the 52-year-old said afterwards. “For a long time, we have tried to live the situation with all normality. Our daughter is not with us any more but she lives with us every day.”

Luis Enrique craves ‘adversity’ for euphoric Spain before Germany clash | Spain


“That’s how much of a dickhead I am,” Luis Enrique said. Three days after Spain scored seven against Costa Rica, and on the eve of a game which – unless Costa Rica beat Japan – comes as an opportunity not just to secure an early place in the last 16 but also eliminate Germany, the head coach claimed he would rather manage failure than euphoria. The good news for Luis Enrique is that Hansi Flick’s team provide the perfect opponent to prevent his players from relaxing.

“You always hope for the best when you’re about to make your debut but maybe I didn’t expect such a version of us that was so, so strong,” he said about Spain’s demolition of Costa Rica. “It was a pleasure and you enjoy it so much when you see the team function like that. But I feel better managing problems [than success], that’s how much of a gilipollas [dickhead] I am.”

There was a laugh from a packed press room at the media centre. “Don’t laugh,” Luis Enrique shot back. The Spain coach is from Gijón in the principality of Asturias, in the north of the country, and proud of it too. He has previously mentioned Don Pelayo, who legend has it began the reconquest of Spain from Covadonga in the Asturian mountains, and for all that Luis Enrique is committed to a footballing vision, there is fight in him too. Here he drew on that defiance.

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“It’s true,” continued Luis Enrique. “I feel more comfortable when I have to lift my team, when everything is against us; that’s where that Asturian blood comes through, that Gijón in me comes to the surface. I have had very good moments but it is in the bad moments, when they must try to sink me that that character, that edge, comes out. This week has been very nice but my essence, when I am the real me, is seen in adversity.”

For Spain that is in short supply right now, but the head coach insisted that they won’t fall into the trap of assuming this is done. “We have dealt with this [euphoria] as normally as we can,” he said. “It’s three points, no more. We have talked about that. And Germany have all the qualities needed for us not to be [over]confident. If we do that, they will roll over us. This is a very intelligent group of players who know that you need to be fully focused. It’s a nice challenge.”

“You look at Germany’s shirt and you see four stars,” Luis Enrique said. “I played against them at the 94 World Cup and their physical power was bestial. There was a big difference at the time. Now in footballing terms Spain is at as high a level as any team. In fact, in the Fifa ranking I think we are above them.”

“They are a team that always attacks, they want to be in the opposition’s half, they’re the national team that’s most like Spain. If anyone knows how to compete it is Germany. If anyone can turn it around, it’s them. They have lots of players who are world class, their history is there. They will want to control, dominate, have the ball, and that’s a lovely challenge for us because we have the same aims. But we have the conviction that we can beat them.”