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EURO 2024 Preview: Yamal and Rodri Set to Shine for Spain

EURO 2024 Preview: Yamal and Rodri Set to Shine for Spain

Spain at Euro 2024: Young Talent, Controversy and a Midfield Maestro

Spain heads into Euro 2024 with a cloud hanging over them. The fallout from the Luis Rubiales scandal continues to rumble on, casting a shadow over the national team despite their recent success in the Nations League. While there’s undeniable talent in the squad, particularly young sensation Lamine Yamal and midfield anchor Rodri, expectations are muted.

Fresh Face in Charge

Luis de la Fuente’s appointment as head coach came as a surprise to many. He took over from Luis Enrique after Spain’s disappointing exit at the 2022 World Cup. De la Fuente, a two-time La Liga winner with Athletic Bilbao, boasts a successful record with Spain’s youth teams, including a European Under-19 title in 2015.

His low-key personality is a stark contrast to his predecessor. Unlike Enrique, who embraced social media like Twitch, De la Fuente prefers the training ground. However, he hasn’t entirely escaped controversy, facing criticism for his loyalty to Rubiales and a strained relationship with certain media outlets, particularly those with close ties to Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Spain’s Teenage Prodigy

Lamine Yamal has taken Spanish football by storm. The Barcelona youngster became the youngest ever La Liga player, Champions League starter, and La Liga scorer, all before his 17th birthday. He further etched his name in history by becoming Spain’s youngest international debutant and goalscorer.

Yamal’s maturity and decision-making belie his age. He possesses impressive dribbling and shooting skills, contributing seven goals and ten assists in his first full season for Barcelona. If he features at Euro 2024, he’ll be the youngest player in the tournament’s history. Could he write an even more incredible story with a fairytale ending on July 13th, his 17th birthday, the day before the final?

Strengths in the Middle

While not quite matching the legendary Xavi and Iniesta, Spain still boasts a strong midfield core. They dominated possession statistics during Euro 2024 qualifying, leading in categories like average possession (67.6%), passing accuracy (90.8%), and most passes completed per game (660).

Photo: IMAGO
Photo: IMAGO

Manchester City’s Rodri is the on-field leader, dictating the tempo alongside a returning Pedri, who’s finally rediscovering his form after injury struggles. Technically gifted players like Dani Olmo, Fabian Ruiz, and Aleix Garcia complete the picture, offering a potent combination of control and creativity.

De la Fuente also utilizes the pace of Yamal and Nico Williams on the flanks, providing an alternative approach against stubborn opponents.

Defensive Doubts

Spain’s central defence remains a concern. Aymeric Laporte, despite his quality, raises questions with his move to the Saudi Pro League after leaving Manchester City. His partner in the backline is yet to be solidified, with Robin Le Normand, another French-born player who switched allegiance to Spain, currently favoured.

The lack of established options forced De la Fuente to fast-track teenagers Pau Cubarsi and recall veteran Nacho. While Spain conceded only five goals in qualifying, sterner tests await in Germany.

Beyond the Pitch: A Shadow Lingers

Spanish football is still grappling with the aftermath of the Rubiales scandal. The appointment of Vicente del Bosque to a newly formed committee aims to polish the federation’s image, but the scars remain. A police raid on the national team training ground during an international break further highlights the ongoing issues.

The new president, Pedro Rocha, is himself under investigation, a stark reminder that the problems haven’t disappeared.

Muted Expectations

Despite winning the Nations League last summer, Spain doesn’t enter Euro 2024 with high expectations. The team lacks the star power of previous golden generations, and the off-field noise undoubtedly creates a distraction.

De la Fuente has called for unity, urging the media to focus on football. However, a tough group stage featuring Italy and Croatia means Spain faces a significant challenge from the outset.

Perhaps, like their Euro 2008 triumph, they can defy expectations and forge a new chapter in Spanish football.