Spain’s genius overwhelms lack of star power in Euro 2024 race

MUNICH — Last time Spain were in the final of a major tournament 12 years and eight days ago. All but one of the starting XI were destroyed. Italy in Kyiv to win Euro 2012 that day playing for both Real Madrid or Barcelona. And this is the pinnacle El Classic again: Pep Guardiola vs Jose Mourinho, the European treble and the 100-point season, Lionel Messi compare to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Most of them were members of the Euro 2008 and World Cup winning teams of 2010. They were seasoned superstars, rival factions who put aside their differences to conquer the world, like superheroes teaming up in fantasy comics. In other words, they were on good terms.

The Spain team, who could win the European Championship on Sunday, is the antithesis of that. More misfits than masters of the universe. More obscures than aristocratic artists. More misunderstood geniuses than celebrated elites.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are represented in the overthrown squad. France 2-1but just enough: 34 years old Nachotechnically not even a Madridista no more since his contract expired and now he is heading for his final payday in Qatar and Lamine YamalThe 16-year-old Barca player scored the kind of statement goal you’ll see over and over again on social media (and your kids and grandkids too… special). Indeed, France have more Real Madrid/Barca players in their XI than any other, if you count Kylian Mbappe.

And then, here they are. They may not have much in the way of pedigree and star power (except RodriManchester metronome and Yamal, who are on their way to the finish line), but arguably they had the toughest road to the final, beating both veteran opponents (France, CroatiaItaly, Germany) and ranking the underdogs (Albania, Georgia). And do all that without having to take a penalty and while playing — by a wide margin — the best soccer in the tournament.

They also have a coach who fits this group of players, just as 2012 coach Vicente Del Bosque — a World Cup winner and two Champions League winners — fits that bill. Luis de la Fuente, who looks like a substitute teacher with nerdy, child-abusing glasses, has never managed a first- or second-division club. For the past 12 years, he has worked for the Spanish Football Federation in various coaching roles, rising through the age groups. At 61, he was not appointed to replace Luis Enrique after the Qatar World Cup because he was seen as one of the up-and-coming coaches. He was appointed because he already had a job at the Football Federation.

He reminds you of the kind of person who is always busy, who folds napkins and pushes chairs in after meals, who takes each day as it comes. Half of his initial defense (Dani Carvajal And Robin Le Normand) was suspended for this fight, so he worked with the old fighter Nacho and the even older fighter Jesus Navas. He’s 38 and his job in this game is Mbappé. When Mbappé froze him and passed the ball to France for the opener, you feared what would happen. But Navas has matured in the game, even as Mbappé has begun to falter.

Footinjured early in the match against the Germans, was replaced by Dani Olmo. He is a former Barcelona youth player who made headlines when, at the age of 16, he opted to move to Croatia and Dinamo Zagreb to boost his footballing development. The right choice? We may never know, as he has been injured for much of his career: in the last five seasons since joining Leipzig, he has started more than 17 league games only once. But he was the right choice for De la Fuente that night: his movement between the lines disrupted France’s build-up and he was responsible for Spain’s second goal.

Boys like Olmo make this Spanish team not only successful but also loved. Talented, but also flawed. Like Fabian Ruizwho made his name at second-tier clubs like Betis and Napoli before finally landing that job in the spotlight at Paris Saint Germain two years ago. Or Marc CucurellaSacked by Barcelona at the age of 21, he relaunched his career at Brighton only to become a laughing stock at Chelsea in his first 18 months there (before recovering at the end of last season).

Then there is Alvaro MorataThe unluckiest star of them all. Tall, handsome, strong, quick, powerful, skilful, he should have been the next big thing at Real Madrid. Instead, he has had a wandering career, one in which he looked good and scored goals for big clubs but never really reached his full potential. Which may explain why Atletico Madrid are now on the market. Again.

De la Fuente has taken this motley formation and implemented a twist from the Luis Enrique era. Gone is the possession football of passers masquerading as wingers, replaced by his two young long-distance runners, Nico Williams on the right and Yamal on the left, and with them, the ability to suddenly break through opposition defences that his predecessors lacked. There’s also been some of the eccentricity that was part of Luis Enrique’s style, from his roundabout answers in press conferences to the nightly Twitch streams he does in Qatar. De la Fuente keeps things simple and plays to his strengths rather than some grand philosophical ideas.



Fans in Madrid go wild as Spain fight back to take lead over France

Watch the raucous scenes in Madrid as hundreds of fans gathered to watch Spain come back from 1-0 down to take the lead against France at Euro 2024.

Of course, it also helps that Spain are not entering this tournament as favourites, an inevitable consequence of the injuries to their stars (Gavi And Alejandro Balde The two most obvious ones) otherwise become fixed characters.

It also helps when a guy like Yamal does what he did. Against France’s previously impregnable barriers, he pulled a rabbit out of the hat, showing the kind of confidence and self-assurance you expect from superstars who have been there/done that, not guys who are a year away from being allowed to vote. With Spain down a goal and the prospect of France playing in transition — where they’re most comfortable — the rest of the way, it was his strike that turned things around and only reinforced De la Fuente’s message: “Now that everything’s in the balance, let’s keep doing what we’re doing.”

It’s nonsense to suggest that experience makes you invulnerable. Or that pedigree matters. Spain’s most successful star — apart from Rodri — is Yamla, a guy who hasn’t even finished writing the prologue to his biography.

De la Fuente’s team are reminding us that once you cross that white line onto the pitch, you leave your resume behind. And all that matters is what’s in your heart and your head. And what you can do with your feet. In Spain’s case, that was enough.


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