Spain's talent overshadows lack of star power at Euro 2024

Spain's talent overshadows lack of star power at Euro 2024

MUNICH — Spain last reached a major tournament final 12 years and eight days ago. All but one of the XI starters who won Euro 2012 by beating Italy in Kiev that day had played for Real Madrid or Barcelona. And they were top players l Classico The Times: Pep Guardiola vs Jose Mourinho, the European treble and a 100-point season, Lionel Messi Vs Cristiano Ronaldo,

Most of these players were part of the team that won the Euros in 2008 and the World Cup in 2010. They were warlike superstars, rival factions who put aside their differences to take on the world, a bit like superheroes who team up in a fictional comic book crossover series. In other words, they were connected.

Spain, the team that could win the European Championship on its own on Sunday, is a photo-negative in this regard. More mismatched team than masters of the universe. More nameless taggers than elite performers. More misunderstood talented players than respected elite.

Barcelona and Real Madrid were among the teams that beat France 2-1, but by a very narrow margin: 34-year-old dancetechnically it doesn't even madridista Now they have no salary because their contract is over and now they are going to Qatar for their final salary, and Lamin YamalThe 16-year-old Barca sensation who scored a statement goal that you'll see over and over again on social media (your kids and grandkids will too… it was that special). In fact, France's XI had more Real Madrid/Barca players combined, if you count Kylian Mbappe,

And yet, here is Spain. They may not have much in the way of pedigree and star power (except for RhodriManchester Metronome, and Yamal, who are well on their way), but they have arguably had the toughest run to reach the final, beating both their old rivals (France, Croatia, Italy, Germany) and rank underdogs (Albania, Georgia). And they did it all without needing to go to penalties and while playing the best football in the tournament by some margin.

They also have a coach who is a good fit for this group of players, just as 2012 coach Vicente del Bosque – who had already won a World Cup and two Champions League titles – was a good fit for this group. Luis de la Fuente looks like a substitute teacher with nerd glasses, the kind kids happily annoy. He has never managed in first or second division club football. For the past 12 years he has worked for the Spanish FA in various coaching roles, moving up through the age groups. At 61, he wasn't appointed to replace Luis Enrique after the Qatar World Cup because he was considered an up-and-coming coaching mind. He was appointed because he already had a job with the FA.

He seems to you as a man who moves things along, who folds his napkin and pushes his chair in after a meal, who takes each day as it comes. Half his initial defense (Dani Carvajal And Robin Le Normand) was suspended for the game, so he made do with older warrior Nacho and the even older warrior jesus navas. He is 38 years old and his job in this game was to beat Mbappe. When Mbappe stopped Navas and crossed for France's opener, you feared what might happen. But Navas held his own in the game despite Mbappe's weakness.

PedriHe was replaced after being injured early in the game against the Germans Dani OlmoHe is a former Barcelona youth player who made headlines when he decided to move to Croatia and Dinamo Zagreb at the age of 16 to pursue his football development. The right choice? We may never know, as he has been injured for most of his career: he has started more than 17 league games only once in the past five seasons since joining Leipzig. But he was the right replacement for De la Fuente that night: his movement between the lines disrupted France's buildup and he was responsible for Spain's second goal.

Players like Olmo are what make this Spain team not just successful, but loved. The talent is there, but there are also a lot of flaws. fabián ruizwho made a name for himself at second-tier clubs like Real Betis and Napoli before bursting into the spotlight at Paris Saint-Germain two years ago. Marc CucurellaDropped by Barcelona at the age of 21, he rebuilt his career at Brighton but then became a talking point in his first 18 months at Chelsea (recovering somewhat at the end of last season).

So then there is Alvaro MorataThe most star-crossed of them all. Tall, handsome, athletic, fast, powerful, skilful, he should have been the next big thing at Real Madrid. Instead, he has had a journeyman career in which he has looked good and scored goals for big clubs, but never quite added up to the sum of his parts. Which might explain why Atletico Madrid want to send him away. Again.

De la Fuente took this diverse squad and turned a handbrake around from the Luis Enrique era. Possession football with wingers as passers was over; in came his two young roadrunners, Nico Williams There was Yamal on the left and Yamal on the right and, with them, the ability to suddenly penetrate opposition defences, something that previous teams had lacked. Gone was also some of the eccentricity that was part and parcel of Luis Enrique's method, from the complex answers in news conferences to the nightly Twitch streams he put up in Qatar. De la Fuente keeps things simple and plays to his strengths rather than any big philosophical ideas.



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It certainly helps that Spain did not go into the tournament as favourites, which was the inevitable result of injuries to stars (Gavi And Alejandro Balde two obvious ones) who would otherwise have been fixtures.

It also helps when Yamal does what he did. Against previously impenetrable French barricades, he pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, exuding the kind of confidence and self-assurance you expect from superstars, not people who are less than a year away from being allowed to vote. With Spain trailing by a goal and France likely to play in transition – where they are most comfortable – the rest of the way it was his strike that changed it and only reinforced de la Fuente’s message: “Everything is equal now, let’s just keep doing what we do.”

The idea that experience makes you infallible is very effective. Or that pedigree matters. Spain's most successful star – apart from Rodri – is Yamal, a man who hasn't even finished the prologue to his biography yet.

De la Fuente's Spain is reminding us that once you cross that white line on the field, you leave your resume behind. And what matters is what's in your heart and mind. And what you can do with your feet. Which, in Spain's case, is a lot.

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