Spain is a secret World Cup contender hiding in plain sight. Luis Enrique has the recipe for fame in Qatar

During his successful tenure as Barcelona head coach, Luis Enrique has tossed through the mundanity of the twice-weekly press conferences.

Now, as the leader of the Spanish national team, he finds his media duties quite repetitive.

“I look at the press conferences of other international coaches and I feel sympathy for them because I see that the same thing happens to them as me: they always ask about the players who have not been selected,” he said in September , as a idiosyncratic World Cup squad took shape. “It’s very difficult to please everyone.”

Of course, Luis Enrique rarely bothered to please people. It’s hard to imagine a coach at Qatar 2022 with less of an ear for public shouts.

The particular circumstances of the tournament and a fabulous generation of talent at his disposal mean he could really achieve something at this tournament. Spain’s relentless 7-0 win over Costa Rica in Group E should not have come as a complete surprise.

MORE: Spain vs Costa Rica final score: La Roja scored seven, Gavi becomes their youngest World Cup goalscorer

“Given the choice between what they have done for their clubs and what they have done for me, I will always choose what they have done for me,” he explained. This approach has resulted in some high-profile casualties. With Sergio Ramos eliminated ahead of Euro 2020, Thiago Alcantara was a shock to the World Cup.

Names mean nothing in Luis Enrique’s Spain squad, although they showed in the case of Thiago against Costa Rica that they are not exactly short of midfielders with a touch of magic who love the ball.

It must be noted that the Central American team looked thoroughly like a team that had narrowly qualified in a playoff against New Zealand. Luis Fernando Suarez’s side were absolutely pathetic, as accommodating as Japan when they beat Germany in the group’s opening game.

Nonetheless, it was confirmation for the coach that Spain’s top three all got on the scoresheet after half an hour. Ferran Torres was a minor player in a Barcelona forward line assisted by Robert Lewandowski this season. Dani Olmo has struggled for RB Leipzig with an injury and scored a Bundesliga goal in 2022/23. Marco Asensio started a LaLiga game for Real Madrid.

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But there they were all like an unannounced trident, with Olmo pirouetted to score a beautifully constructed opener, Asensio swept past Keylor Navas’s random effort in the Costa Rica goal and Torres calmly dished out a penalty.

Ferran pocketed his second to make it to four. Since he’s dating Luis Enrique’s daughter, it pays to stay in the good books. Behind the front three it was the show of Gavi and Pedri as the two Barcelona magicians poked fun at each other. Gavi’s missed fifth goal was the best choice before substitutes Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata inflicted further suffering on their battered opponents.

Seven goals. When Spain won the World Cup in 2010, they only scored eight goals in the entire competition. Their previous record in the competition is one reason they will be underestimated this time.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was a nightmare, with brutal defeats to the Netherlands and Chile eliminating the hosts after two games. On the eve of the 2018 World Cup, head coach Julen Lopetegui agreed to take charge of Real Madrid after the tournament and the RFEF responded by dismissing him immediately.

Spain nonetheless delivered a thriller with Portugal in the group stage, reaching the knockout stages only to meet Russia. The host played on penalties, got them and won.

Celebration in Spain

MORE: Watch every World Cup game live with fuboTV (free trial only in US)

Last year, Luis Enrique’s side scored penalties in the semi-finals of the European Championship, an achievement that was quickly overlooked.

It’s true that Spain are lacking a reliable goalscorer (a hilarious point after a 7-0 win but here we are…) and Manchester City midfielder Rodri, firing alongside club-mate Aymeric Laporte in central defence, was little reminiscent of the glorious ones Days of Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Ramos. A rampant Japan will enjoy testing the team’s rear half and Sergio Busquets’ aging legs.

But from the undercooked forwards to the makeshift back line, these are all players who give Luis Enrique exactly what he wants. At Al-Thumama Stadium, they looked like worthy heirs to the team that ruled the world a decade ago. Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque pragmatically embraced the all-conquering Barcelona from 2008 to 2012, while Luis Enrique is a true pupil of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola.

This means that in a tournament where teams have had essentially no preparation time, Spain have a side that is as in sync as few. England manager Gareth Southgate has faced similar criticism to Luis Enrique in terms of rigidity and loyalty to his perceived favourites.

After the Three Lions’ 6-2 win over Iran, Spain’s rise to seventh heaven and surprise defeats by Argentina and Germany, Southgate and Luis Enrique are beginning to look like the smartest men in the room.



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