Big game for Spain’s Nations League hopes and World Cup plans

Big game for Spain’s Nations League hopes and World Cup plans (Analysis)

Madrid, Sep 27 (IANS) Spain face a vital match in Portugal on Tuesday night with a place in the Final Four of the UEFA Nations League at stake, but also with eyes on the more immediate future.

La Roja need to win in Portugal to ensure their spot in the final phase of the Nations League, but after their 2-1 defeat at home to Switzerland on Saturday, coach Luis Enrique also needs a good result to take to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Spain will kick off their World Cup campaign against Costa Rica on November 23, with only a friendly against Jordan on November 17 as preparation for the main event, and that leaves Luis Enrique very little time to sort out some major problems which were evident on Saturday, reports Xinhua.

The coach has the excuse that some players who in normal circumstances would be in the squad — including Mikel Oyarzabal, Ansu Fati, Dani Olmo, Gerard Moreno and Inigo Martinez — were all missing through injury or lack of fitness and at least some of above should be in Qatar.

Those absences partly explain why the side that faced the Swiss featured players such as Ferran Torres, Marcos Asensio, Jordi Alba, Cesar Azpilicueta and Pablo Sarabia who are not starting games for their clubs, and despite Asensio and Alba combining for Spain’s goal, they lacked fluidity.

That was especially obvious in attack, where Torres, Asensio and Sarabia looked for mobility rather than anyone offering the focal point that Moreno would have done, and it’s hard to understand why Alvaro Morata was an unused substitute.

Meanwhile, Spain still have a tendency to make pretty shapes with their passing in midfield while failing to turn possession into clear-cut chances, and they improved when the more direct Marcos Llorente came on as a second-half substitute.

Real Betis’ in-form Borja Iglesias played the last 25 minutes on Saturday and can expect to be given his chance on Tuesday, while Morata will surely also get some game time.

Luis Enrique will also be worried that both of Switzerland’s goals came from headers following corners.

With Alba, Pedri, Gavi, Torres and Sarabia in the starting 11, Spain are not a tall side, and while Eric Garcia may offer talent in playing the ball from the back, he lacks the aerial power of Inigo Martinez – or even Martinez’s Athletic Bilbao clubmate Yeray Alvarez, who has yet to receive an international call-up.

Meanwhile, the Spanish press continue to ask about Sergio Ramos, with the 36-year-old having missed all of last season though injury.

Enrique is a man who is loyal to the players who have done a good job for him in the past, but if others, such as Iglesias and Nico Williams, take their chances on Tuesday, he will have some serious thinking to do before naming his squad on November 12 or 13.

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