EURO 2020 review: Spain
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Team reporter Graham Hunter anticipates a bright future for Pedri and Co and looks forward to Spain's semi-final reunion with Italy in the UEFA Nations League later this year.
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After a slow start, Spain improved as EURO 2020 progressed, smashing five goals past both Slovakia and Croatia to assert their title credentials. They remained prone to wayward finishing, however, and squeezed past Switzerland on penalties in the quarter-finals before suffering shoot-out agony of their own against Italy in the last four.
What were the positives?
They were numerous – but it would be unbelievably contrary not to say, loudly: PEDRI. Luis Enrique is generally blunt, not prone to exaggeration and far more likely to bring his players down to earth. But post that dramatic loss to Italy, he stated that nobody, ever, had played a debut tournament like Pedri had aged 18. "Not even Andrés Iniesta," he added.
But what about Aymeric Laporte? His adopted nation will grow to love him. Eric García, too, looks a wonderful centre-back partner. There are more pluses, Dani Olmo certainly being one. But all will seem brighter once the bitter taste of defeat recedes.
If it was a match, putting five past Slovakia. If it were 'moments', then the combination of two Basque men, hands across the Real Sociedad-Athletic Club divide, putting Spain into the semi-finals during that crazy shoot-out against the Swiss. Unai Simón's superb pair of saves, Mikel Oyarzabal's nerveless spot-kick winner. And the goalkeeper's uncontrollable joy at having gone from 'villain' to hero in a matter of days.
What the future holds
First of all, it holds the return of absent footballers who were out injured. Dani Carvajal, Ansu Fati… whisper it, but perhaps even Sergio Ramos. Yet the key thing to take from this EURO is the minuscule turnaround before Spain and Italy meet in another semi-final – the UEFA Nations League in Milan this autumn. The world will be drooling at a repeat of the drama, the quality and the beauty of this kind of football.
Predictions for the rest of EURO 2020
I predict that a lot of people will suddenly discover how fond they were of Spain's daring play now that La Roja are out. I predict that Italy have lost and won here – won a huge surge of confidence and self-belief but also burned up a massive store of nervous and physical energy. Regardless of who the Azzurri play on Sunday night, it will be a five-star finale to a fabulous tournament. Guaranteed.