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Spain have the quality to go the distance this summer

Of all the teams to have played at Euro 2024 so far, Spain put down the biggest marker. Germany might have racked up the goals against Scotland on opening night, but Luis de la Fuente’s team faced higher calibre opposition in Croatia and made them look ordinary. It was an impressive showing on all counts.

It was a display that suggested Spain might have been underestimated as genuine contenders at this tournament. Most observers predicted England and France would be frontrunners, and they might still be, but the Euro 2008 and 2012 winners have the quality to go the distance this summer.

More pertinently, Spain now have the approach to get the best out of their attacking players. Under Luis Enrique, they were guilty of controlling possession for the sake of it. At the 2022 World Cup, Spain suffered an early exit at the hands of Morocco as a result of being toothless in front of goal. That was their biggest problem.

De la Fuente, however, has shown himself to be more of a pragmatist than his predecessor. He isn’t so keen for his team to control the ball, as demonstrated by the fact Croatia had more possession than Spain in Saturday’s match. Instead, De la Fuente has opted for a quick transition style of play.

Against Croatia, it was notable how quickly Spain were moving the ball forward into Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal. From the wide positions, they had the opportunity to isolate defenders in one-on-one situations and drive into the final third. This was something that gave Spain a different dimension to what they had at the last two major tournaments. They were exciting to watch – and a nightmare to play against.

Yamal in particular is a generational talent and someone who will surely be a star for Spain for years to come. The 16-year-old Barcelona prodigy became the youngest player in European Championships history by starting against Croatia on Saturday and marked the occasion by producing a sensational assist for Dani Carvajal to score Spain’s third goal.

Williams is another exciting talent. He was one of the most productive attackers in La Liga this season, registering 16 goal contributions (five goals and 11 assists) for Athletic Club, and is a direct threat down the left wing for Spain. De la Fuente has set up his team to get the best out of his two wide attackers at Euro 2024. Yamal and Williams could dominate this tournament.

“Maybe in other times, having more of the ball guaranteed better results [but] now we are a team who can surprise teams like we have today,” said De la Fuente after the win over Croatia. “The importance of possession depends on the results. We used the ball very well and we were very decisive in landing blows. We have shown that you don’t have to have so much of the ball if you’re a team like ours, with speed.”

Alvaro Morata is another player who has benefited from the change of approach under De la Fuente. The Atletico Madrid striker wasn’t always favoured by Luis Enrique who frequently used a False Nine in the centre forward position. Now, though, Morata has been fully embraced as Spain’s first-choice striker – and he is delivering.

Indeed, Morata is now Spain’s all-time top scorer in the European Championships. He averages a goal every other game for the national team and gives Spain the attacking focal point they often lacked under Luis Enrique. Spain remain one of the most technically able teams in international football, but they have evolved into genuine tournament challengers.

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