The new coach Luis Enrique has only changed small things, but Spain’s national team seems liberated. Saúl Ñíguez in particular is flourishing. The Croatians have lost all sense of World Cup euphoria.
In the end, when Spain beat Croatia 6-0 in the Nations League, Luis Enrique was also satisfied. “That was wonderful, we were so effective,” said Enrique. It was the second victory in the second game for Spain’s new national coach, which is what we call a successful start. Saúl Ñíguez (24th minute), Marco Asensio (33rd), Rodrigo (49th), Sergio Ramos (57th) and Isco (70th) scored for Spain. Croatian goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic also scored an own goal in the 35th minute.
And yet in this game, which was such a clear affair in terms of the result, there was a phase in which Enrique struggled with his team’s game and gesticulated wildly up and down the sidelines.
At the beginning of the game, Spain were nervous and the defensive allowed itself twenty shaky minutes. The Croatians had more of the game. Until a scene occurred where it was wonderfully comprehensible which changes Enrique had in mind. Away from the dogma of pure ball possession football, towards more variability, speed and courage.
Enrique, 48, has already demonstrated this ability to reposition himself when he countered FC Barcelona. He won ten titles with the Catalans between 2014 and 2017. And he will also need them with the national team, which had failed at the World Cup in Russia because their opponents had long since adapted to the Spaniards’ possession of the ball.
In the game against Croats, the 22nd minute ran and Spain’s debutant Dani Ceballos captured a ball that had just been lost at the midline. Spain remained in possession of the ball for almost 70 seconds, it was Tiki-Taka in pure form. We know this from the “Furia Roja”, the red furie, who was tame most of the time.
Surprising was only the end of this combination over 18 stations: Because there were simply no gaps in Croatia’s defence, Sergio Ramos switched to Plan B. Another diagonal ball on the right wing, a high outer flank from Daniel Carvajal, a massive header from Saúl Ñíguez- 1-0.
“Spain completed like never before! La Roja defeated Croatia, the runner-up world champion, with an unusual punch and a more pragmatic game than usual,” wrote the newspaper “El País”. And the magazine “SPORT” headlined: “The future is already here”.
Saúl Ñíguez Honours
- Copa del Rey: 2012–13
- Supercopa de España: 2014
- UEFA Europa League: 2011–12, 2017–18
- UEFA Super Cup: 2018
- UEFA Champions League: Runner-up 2015–16
- UEFA European Under-19 Championship: 2012
- UEFA European Under-21 Championship: Runner-up 2017
- UEFA European Under-19 Championship Team of the Tournament: 2012
- UEFA European Under-21 Championship: Golden Boot 2017
- UEFA European Under-21 Championship Team of the Tournament: 2017
- UEFA Europa League Squad of the Season: 2017–18
Ñíguez – Spain’s new bearer of hope
And Ñíguez became a hero, someone who had hardly been on anyone’s list before. Although Ñíguez, 23, has long since matured to become one of the most interesting midfielders in the Spanish league at Atlético Madrid under Diego Simeone, he had at best played a minor role in the national team. Until Enrique took over and promoted Ñíguez directly. Against England at the start of the Nations League he was in the starting eleven and not only convinced with his first international goal. Ñíguez also scored against Croatia, he ran a lot and won duels. It was a good recommendation for a regular place.
“Enrique recently said Ñíguez simply had a “brutal mentality”. His straightforwardness and strong physique made him a player not normally found in Spain’s squad in this position. And anyone who can still remember Luis Enrique, a player who once combined technique and will with great effectiveness, may well find parallels to Ñíguez. No wonder coach Enrique also appreciates the player.
The Croats, too, would have benefited from someone like Ñíguez that evening. What the highly decorated midfield around Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric showed was far removed from what you had seen of them at the World Cup just a few weeks ago. Little finesse and hardly any resistance. And at the front the retired Mario Mandukic was missing on every cross and every finish.
“We didn’t show anything and weren’t even a shadow of the team we were a short time ago,” said national coach Zlatko Dalic. “After a lot of euphoria there is sometimes a tragedy. But we can’t sit here and cry, we have to prepare ourselves for what’s next“.
Next comes the English, on 12 October, and Croatia is already under a lot of pressure. Actually only a victory will help the reigning vice world champion, otherwise at the end of this first Nations-League round there is the threat of relegation from League A. The Spaniards can then sit back and enjoy themselves. It seems as if the World Cup tristesse is already a thing of the past. BetEast is one of the fastest growing online casino gaming site that delivers world class sports betting, casino and e-sports to all the interested players.