ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – After shedding their early tournament jitters, free-scoring Spain look ready to emulate their serial-winning predecessors, although Euro 2020 quarter-final opponents Switzerland are exactly the type of team they hate to face.
Spain won their first knockout tie since lifting Euro 2012 to beat Croatia 5-3 and become the top scoring side in the tournament with 11 goals after netting only once in their first two games.
There was even more excitement among Spanish fans when unfancied Switzerland stunned world champions France after coming back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 and prevail on penalties.
Yet even though the Swiss lack world stars like France’s Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema or Kylian Mbappe, Spain must be prepared for a long evening finding their way through Vladimir Petkovic’s disciplined side on Friday in St Petersburg.
After Spain’s frustrating opening draws with Sweden and Poland, coach Luis Enrique said that facing a side sitting deep and defending was “the hardest thing in football”
Switzerland hardly have the most resilient defence after conceding eight goals in four games but Petkovic, who has been using a 3-4-1-2 formation, is likely to set his side up to deprive Spain of space in the final third.
‘HUMBLE, HARDWORKING GROUP’
Towering striker Haris Seferovic, who scored two headed goals against France, also poses a serious aerial threat which Spain’s centrebacks Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres have struggled to deal with in the tournament, being out-jumped by Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Croatia’s Mario Pasalic.
Spain keeper Unai Simon insisted his side were no more pleased to face Switzerland than France.
“It’s a quarter-final tie, we don’t depend on our opponents, we depend on ourselves. We play to win this Euros and we don’t mind who we play, to win this tournament we have to face the best teams,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Simon made a remarkable gaffe by letting a back pass from team mate Pedri trickle into his own net against Croatia in what became the own goal from the furthest distance in the tournament’s history.
But he has talked up the team’s character, on display as they outplayed Croatia after falling behind to the own goal and then rallied in extra-time from conceding two late goals.
“The veterans always tell us big tournaments are won by teams, not names, and we are a team. I don’t know how far we’ll go but everyone can see how united we are and whatever happens. If we go behind or ahead, we’re all in it together,” he added.
“I can’t say whether there were egos in previous Spain teams, but this is a very humble, hardworking group that is really excited about winning this European Championship.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)