"Luis Enrique is on a bit of a roll," says Spain reporter Graham Hunter as he senses the winning momentum from 2008 and 2012.
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EURO2020.com's Spain reporter Graham Hunter discusses a squad showing signs of being built in Luis Enrique's combative image, unstoppable at times, before addressing the elephant in the room.Italy vs Spain: live coverage
The killer instinct is there, somewhere
When it rains, it pours. If Spain are on form, if they are happy in their skins, then a goal can lead to a torrent. It’s not their defining characteristic but it’s still a central part of their DNA.
In recent seasons they’ve put six past Argentina and Germany, five past Slovakia and Croatia, four past Ukraine and, not all that long ago, three past Italy. Twelve goals this tournament equals the total that they hit in winning UEFA EUROs 2008 and 2012 – back when they had David Villa and/or Fernando Torres!
Stomach for the fight
Spain, it seems, have learned to deal with adversity. "Do the challengers have a glass jaw?" was part of the inquisitory tone of both the Spanish media and, still more, the international swarm of journalists who cover La Roja in tournaments. It was a fair point, because this is still a work in progress and had Sergio Ramos or Iñigo Martínez been fit, they’d have been in this squad.
But temporarily losing Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente; then misfiring in front of goal, followed by tossing away a 3-1 lead against Croatia; and, on Friday, needing to go to a ‘dreaded’ shoot-out against Switzerland before winning despite missing twice. Youthful or inexperienced? Yes. Work in progress? Definitely. Bristling with character? You bet.
'Lucho' Enrique pulls no punches
Luis Enrique is on a bit of a roll. Obviously it’s crucial that a coach ‘reads’ the opposition well and I’ve quizzed him about this – they work hard on analysis. But this is a front-foot coach and squad. They believe that the emphasis lies with them to make the play and win the match, not with what the opposition does. Thus it’s utterly vital that the coach is on his game.
He has shown faith with Álvaro Morata who, generally, has paid him back. He was initially stubborn about keeping Marcos Llorente at right-back, but when he changed to César Azpilicueta, Spain evinced experience and solidity.
His substitutions have been epic. Goals scored or made by the two Torres against Slovakia. Assists and goals from Pau Torres, Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal versus Croatia and a clinching penalty from Oyarzabal against Switzerland. The coach is not nicknamed ‘Lucho’ for nothing – he’s a fighter, he’s a winner.
On the other hand...
OK, there’s an elephant in the corner of the room and we may need a sports psychologist, and many hours on the couch, to talk about it and get rid of it. Spain score a lot, sure. But they miss even more. There’s been a rainbow spread of scorned opportunities. Mis-hit shots, missing the target, hitting every part of the opposition goalkeeper's body – face and head included – hitting the woodwork. You name it, Spain have done it.
And what’s worse, you can almost see and hear the crackle of nerves across the rest of the team when they think "we are working hard, we are crafting winning opportunities and … the ball doesn’t want to go in". It’s an odd phrase but one they use often – one they’re growing to hate.Download the EURO app