Punters lost a small fortune on the Uefa Nations League semifinal match up between Italy and Spain. Roberto Mancini’s European champions had all the correct indicators.
They were on a world record 37-match unbeaten run, hadn’t lost on home soil for 22 years and had beaten Luis Enrique’s La Roja enroute to Euro success barely three months ago. The visitors were also without regular starters Alvaro Morata, Pedri and Gerard Moreno. Few foresaw the Azzuri’s capitulation.
Wasn’t among those caught off guard by the hype surrounding Italy as unbeknownst to many, Spain had the best metrics of any team at the Euro 2020 tournament.
Mancini himself highlighted the fact Enrique’s side had given his team the hardest test last July. 2008 and 2012 Euro titlists Spain commanded the highest possession average at 67 percent, topped the pass completion rate and chances created stats.
They simply didn’t convert enough. It was just a matter of time before an opponent paid for their excellent metrics. That opponent happened to be Italy.
Spain’s victory was a triumph of a philosophy that’s stood the test of two whole decades. Enrique’s decision to hand a start to 17-year-old Barcelona starlet Gavi and a second half cameo to 18-year-old Villarreal wing dazzler Yeremy more than justified his belief in youth. The former Barcelona and Celta Vigo coach’s bravery in trusting Gavi despite him being just seven games into his Barca career is why he was trusted with such a demanding, at times thankless job.
It was a continuation of a policy that saw Enrique’s trust in Gavi’s Blagruana team mate Pedri rewarded with a young player of the tournament accolade at the Euros. But La Roja’s coach also deserves plaudits for following Pep Guardiola’s example by fielding Ferran Torres as a false nine.
The Manchester City forward’s career has been in ascendancy, with his haul of seven goals in as many internationals as good a return as that of any other forward.
Enrique’s refusal to name a single Real Madrid player in his Euro 2020 squad, effectively retiring legendary skipper Sergio Ramos was an early signal of the single minded coaching that’s going to take him and Spain places.
In convincing Manchester City defensive stalwart Aymeric Laporte to join his ranks instead of France, he had earlier demonstrated a crystal clear vision for La Roja.
Enrique has summarily shown he’s a tactically astute leader who is unafraid of living with the consequences of difficult decisions he makes. And he mostly gets his decisions right. Azzuri boss Mancini ought to borrow a leaf from him as he manages a transition from his Euro title winning side.
Qatar 2022 ought to be the last hurrah for Juventus pair Giorgio Chellini and skipper Leonardo Bonucci, whose carelessly conceded second bookable offence belied his seniority. As things stand, it’s Enrique in better stead for the first ever winter World Cup.