Other Sports: Analysis: Champagne moment for Spain could be party starter


SEVILLE (Reuters) – Spain coach Luis Enrique this week described his side as a champagne bottle about to be popped open, and it was party time in Seville on Wednesday night as the hosts thrashed Slovakia 5-0 in a performance that will give them belief that they can win the Euros.

Spain finished second in their European Championship Group E, having been criticised for starting slowly in their first two games, a goalless stalemate with Sweden and a 1-1 draw against Poland, and they narrowly missed out on topping the group after a late goal for Sweden that flipped the ranks around.

They also had some good fortune against a very poor Slovakia, not least two comical own goals. But the match still marked a vast improvement for Spain and will do plenty to lift the mood in Seville and beyond.

This Spanish team may not have the individual talent of previous sides, particularly the all-conquering squad that collected two Euros titles and the World Cup between 2008 and 2012, but they have a workmanlike quality that has made them hard to beat. And now they have added goals.

They have lost just once in their last 27 matches dating back to November 2018 – the only blemish a 1-0 defeat against Ukraine in Kiev. Since Luis Enrique took charge there have been a pair of stunning 6-0 wins over Germany and Croatia.

But there have been some difficult days too with critics swirling, especially after Luis Enrique failed to pick a single Real Madrid player for the tournament, which put him in the firing line of many eager to write the team off at the slightest sign of weakness.

“Luis Enrique was born an optimist and will die an optimist,” he told reporters ahead of Wednesday’s game. “I’m 100% convinced and I have the sensation that we are like a bottle of champagne about to be uncorked. I’m sure that once we win, we’ll see our very best.”

With Pedri a master in the midfield, providing a supply of pinpoint passes to the front three, Spain found their mojo against an admittedly woeful Slovakia just when they needed a party-starter.

Croatia now lie in wait in the last 16, and it will be a step up in opponent, but Luis Enrique will at least feel his side are beginning to believe a fourth Euros title is possible.

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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