Thursday March 30 2017
Positives for Lopetegui

Luke Taylor reviews Spain’s international break, and Julen Lopetegui should be pleased with his side

As far as international breaks go, Spain’s has been a positive one. Wins over Israel and France in World Cup qualifying and a friendly respectively mean Julen Lopetegui remains unbeaten as La Roja Coach, and there was definitely cause for optimism in the way that his team performed over the two games.

Tuesday evening’s star-studded event at the Stade de France was dominated by the headlines made by two key decisions in the game, which were assisted by a video referee. First of all, there was a disallowed goal from Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Grizemann and then substitute Gerard Deulofeu thought his goal had been disallowed, only for the video referee to confirm he was onside and therefore allow Spain’s second goal of the night.

Debates over finding a balance between correct decisions and not taking away the human element of the game have commenced, but Lopetegui will be more concerned with the way his side performed in the backyard of one of Europe’s top teams. It was an accomplished performance between two of Europe’s top performers and the triumph was as impressive as taking advantage of one of the particularly good Grand National betting offers.

One thing that was certainly evident was the way in which La Roja pressed their opponents, giving the French no time at all to build their attacks and forcing them to play it long for the majority of the game. This is a hallmark of the history-making Spain team of recent years, and although this element of their game has remained, the efficiency with which it occurred on Tuesday was very promising.

Despite this, Andres Iniesta and co. were struggling to finish off their moves in the French box, and it took the introduction of Deulofeu to change that. The former Barcelona and Everton winger was a surprise inclusion in the squad, but he won this game for Spain- with his first touch of the ball he won a penalty, which David Silva converted, and then he doubled their lead with his first goal at senior international level by finishing off an exquisite move. He looks to be right at home in this Spain team.

“He had a decisive introduction to the game,” Lopetegui said of Deulofeu. “We’re very happy, he’s a lad who can contribute a lot to us. He has to keep growing like he is, with the same mentality. If he does, he’ll have many more nights like this.”

Before the win in Paris, though, La Roja beat Israel 4-1 to stay level on points with Italy at the top of World Cup qualifying Group G. It was a routine win in Gijon with goals from Silva, Vitolo, Diego Costa and Isco, and Lopetegui’s side played some brilliant football, carving open an Israeli team that sat deep with the neat interchanges of play that we are so accustomed to seeing.

Looking back on both games, it looks as though Lopetegui knows the majority of his best side, with perhaps only one place in midfield and one out wide in contention amongst the squad. It could be argued that with some of the world’s best available, the starting XI should pick itself, but it is certainly a positive for Lopetegui as he looks forward to his first World Cup as Spanish Coach.

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