After a week called “uncomfortable” by Andres Iniesta, Spain face a must-win match against Iran but have Diego Costa finally coming good
Match Day 1 provided surprises and unexpected outcomes across most of the World Cup groups. In Spain’s case, a draw against Portugal wasn’t completely off the books, but the result has certainly placed some tricky extra pressure on top of their second game against Iran.
La Roja’s opponents, inversely, found themselves winning their opening game vs Morocco thanks to a lucky own-goal in the 94th minute.
Therefore, the Spanish side will face this surprising leader of Group B on Wednesday while keeping an eye on what happens between Portugal and Morocco hours before.
It is not exactly a reassuring feel for Fernando Hierro who would have surely preferred a win against Cristiano Ronaldo & co, and who has spent most of the aftermath of that game supporting both privately and publicly poor David De Gea.
After Manchester United’s terrible blooper and overall performance last Friday, deep rumblings came from within the team in Krasnodar that we’re set for a goalkeeper switch in the second game. Not a chance: De Gea will start 100%. “He needs our trust and to boost his confidence”, said Hierro on Tuesday.
The manager-by-accident will face his second World Cup game and he will do it only one full week after being appointed. Julen Lopetegui’s betrayal for Real Madrid and his lightning-speed sacking are now things of the past, although Hierro has been smart enough to keep his hands to himself and not touch anything that already worked.
The set-piece that allowed Spain’s Diego Costa to equalize 2-2 on Friday is the perfect example of taking advantage of the great legacy left behind by the former manager.
The players have shown a high level of professionalism after the shocking developments of last week. Veteran Andrés Iniesta was the one to sum it up the best: “It was pretty uncomfortable, but now it’s over”. Their social media has mirrored and turned up to eleven the feeling inside the locker room, with repeated messages of “group strength”, “unity”, “all together” and several other mantras being tweeted in the days leading up to their second fixture. Losing is not an option for them.
🍝🍗☕¿Qué tal la comida, equipo?
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) June 19, 2018
Inside the team’s headquarters, the main challenge has been keeping out any controversy and buzz coming from Real Madrid and their media minions. While outlets have kept on spilling the details (some true, some absolutely made up) on Lopetegui’s signing for Real, Hierro and his assistants delved deep into the squad’s psych and tried polishing the few positive things to keep improving from their debut. So, no drastic changes are expected on Wednesday, as the team played pretty well and showed the desire to win.
With the De Gea controversy closed, Diego Costa shining with his spectacular brace in his debut and most of the players focused and ‘in the zone’, the single last-minute call will be related to the right-back: Nacho did well in the opening game (he even scored a rocket of a goal), but the doctors and physical therapists have been working 24/7 on Dani Carvajal’s injury. Real Madrid’s defender is expected to make a grand return against Iran once the doctors said he’s fit to play.
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) June 18, 2018
Serendipity has turned Wednesday’s showdown into an old pals gathering, as Carlos Queiroz (Iran’s coach) remembered on his press conference pre-match: “I fought Valdano when I was Madrid’s manager in order to keep Fernando Hierro on the team, and now we face off many years later with both of us on opposite benches”, he laughed.
He sweet-talked Spain as much as he could (“all their 23 men can cause us trouble”), called some of the Spanish players “supermen” who the Iranians will have to combat “with effort and honesty” and ended his chat with quite the revealing quote: “If there was a magical way of stopping Spain in their tracks, one million euros would be a cheap price to pay”. Guess his salary as Iran’s manager is all right, then.