La Roja have a big week on the horizon. Tomorrow evening they face Greece in Athens before hosting Sweden in Seville on Sunday evening. If they want to safely secure their place in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, they’re going to need to win both games.
Spain are currently second of Group B in World Cup Qualifying, two points behind pace-setters Sweden. Greece are four points behind in third. Given the ultra-competitive nature of the play-off system Spain will enter should they fail to top the group, it’s really within their interests to make sure they avoid that scenario.
Speaking to the assembled media on Wednesday afternoon in comments carried by Marca, Luis Enrique and Dani Carvajal sought to project a certain serenity about Spain’s prospects. As a group, they’re entering the game in a good moment following their impressive displays in the Final Four of the Nations League.
“Greece have changed their system from what they used in the first game” Luis Enrique said. “They started with 4-5-1 but they’ve since improved. I expect Greece to be motivated by playing in their own stadium with their own people.
“They’re a very good defensive team and they’ll be tough for us with the ball and without it. If we don’t press them properly, they know how to use the ball.
“I’m lucky, because after seeing the two training sessions at Las Rozas I’m more optimistic. The confidence, the pace, the quality the players have. I feel more confident and calm when preparing and evaluating this match.
“I’m fortunate to be the coach of a country that has at least 60 top-class players. But we’re prepared for difficulties because it’s going to be a tough match.
🤷🏻♂️ No le da ninguna importancia. Él sigue dando indicaciones como si nada, pero escúchame… ¡¡MENUDO CONTROL, MÍSTER!!
😱 De locos lo de @LUISENRIQUE21 en el entrenamiento de hoy.
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) November 9, 2021
“Spain are obliged to try to win each game. Then, at the end, we see where we are. But the obligation is to win each game and do it with the weapons we have. There’s always pressure to win.”
The Asturian refused to entertain talk of Sweden. For him, all his focus is on tomorrow evening. “There’s only one game, Greece,” he said. “We’re not going to make the mistake of thinking about Sweden. We’re going to think of Greece and nothing else.”
He was dismissive of the idea the pressure was getting to him. “Luis Enrique was born with pressure,” he said. “I’ve been living with pressure since I was 18 years old and I feel comfortable. Progress is being made and we’re finding our rhythm. After seeing how the team trains, I can only convey the confidence they’ve given me.
He was then asked about the pressure he was under again. “I see you’re concerned about pressure,” he joked. “But what’s going to happen to you? The problem is when you’re at a team without pressure. Without pressure we wouldn’t be Spain.
“[Greece] are a very well-organised team. In the first leg we generated few chances, less than we would have liked. They played well and that’s why we have to press them. We have the resources the break down the defensive situations they establish. It’s going to be a game where we pin the rival back in their half.
“In every game we have had pressure. I haven’t looked to any other game as a reference. They did very well against Sweden and they’ve been improving throughout the qualification phase.”
He spoke of the condition of Gavi and the rest of his squad. “[Gavi] has played in a position that isn’t his, because he’s been on the right,” he said. “Physically they’re all like airplanes right now, not like back in September. No player has anything specific that prevents him from participating except for Mikel Merino.”
He was pleased to welcome Carvajal back to the squad. “Training Carvajal is a pleasure, because behind the player there is a great person,” he said. “He’s going to help us a lot. He’s changed things, of course, and he’s interesting.
“It’s been like seeing him for the first time all over again, with the same intensity in training, with the same enthusiasm. We’re going to see if he can feature, understand how he feels.”
Luis Enrique tried to underline that, despite what’s on the line, he and his squad were going to treat these two games like any other. “The excitement we all have is so great, but it’s the same situation with all our games,” he said. “We’re not going to be rattled. There hasn’t been a game in which we haven’t had pressure. We always have the same pressure and responsibility.
“I would have preferred [Sweden v Georgia] was on at the same time, but hey, it doesn’t matter. We’re not going to watch the game, we’re not interested.
“The team is made up of veteran players and younger players. We have to focus on what we can control. This is a match for football players of the Spanish and Greek national teams. Both the veterans and the youngsters are accepted.”
He was pleased with his options at centre-forward. “Ferran [Torres] isn’t a nine, he’s a wide player. He can play there, yes. Alvaro [Morata] is at his level and I see him to be in good shape. I’m delighted to see the players I’ve brought, and [as for who features] it could be Brahim [Diaz], Rodrigo, [Raul de Tomas] – who we really want to see. I’m excited to see him on the pitch, to see what he can do.
Luis Enrique had no interest in speculating who the favourite to win the World Cup was. “It doesn’t matter. Our goal is to win games. You have to be optimistic and think about winning, because that creates positive energy. I’m happy and positive.”