A labored Spain faces a crunch match against Morocco but may starting with the hero of the 2010 World Cup win on the bench
Things are looking up for Spain after the clutch win against Iran. Such a victory wasn’t just necessary: it was absolutely vital to avoid a disaster of epic dimensions. However, there’s one more job to do before securing a ticket for the Last round of 16: defeat an already-eliminated Morocco.
And they will need to do so possibly without the 2010 World Cup final goal-scorer Andrés Iniesta in the starting line-up.
The strong rumblings coming from within the national team’s training ground in Krasnodar point towards the veteran Spanish midfielder and talk about pace and physical issues to explain a potential switch in the XI. Iniesta hasn’t said a word: it will be Fernando Hierro’s predicament to solve in Monday’s game.
Iniesta is in the last stage of his professional career, and against Iran, the former Barca man struggled to keep up with the rest of the squad in a very demanding and exhausting fixture. Any other remnant of the glory days of the midfield is gone: no Marcos Senna, no Xavi, no Cesc Fábregas…only David Silva, arguably more attacker than a midfielder, remains. And also Busquets, but he’s also facing serious criticism after lacklustre performances in the first two games.
On the other hand, Saúl Ñíguez was praised for the immediate impact he delivered when playing, effectively overtaking Thiago in the coach’s game-plan. The Atletico midfielder could be the one to replace Iniesta if Hierro believes it’s a good idea. The young box-to-box player has shown previously with the Rojiblancos that he doesn’t break a sweat under pressure and seems ready to be put to the test.
Saúl also became the first player to fully address the Lopetegui sacking and controversy surrounding that shocking development. Most of the veterans decided to move on and spoke about how important it was to become a single unit and foster teamwork; meanwhile, Saúl stated that he “didn’t like” the sacking because they had “a great project with him”. “It was Rubiales’ call and I respect that, but a great deal of us being at this World Cup is Julen’s”, he added.
Last Wednesday, Spain managed to overcome the Iranian hurdle but the fans haven’t been easy on the team. Something isn’t ‘clicking’. The defence was severely slammed due to the highly uncontrolled nature of the last half hour when Iran had quite a few clear chances at drawing the game. Gerard Piqué has been one of the most spoken about, but he seems aloof to all of this, celebrating his 100 caps as a Spanish player, publishing interviews with other players in the media and overall enjoying his Twitter game at the fullest.
? DESDE DENTRO | Pocos son los elegidos que han vestido ? veces nuestra camiseta… ¡Enhorabuena, @3gerardpique!
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) June 22, 2018
The pre-game news versus Morocco is heating up, although the exact opposite will happen climate-wise on the actual game day: the Spanish squad will face a severe -20º Celsius temperature difference from the hot Krasnodar to the cold Kaliningrad, where the fixture will be played.
Both Hierro and the squad have been paying close attention to the developments in other groups with several goals in mind. The first one, obviously, trying to predict (and avoid, where possible) the toughest opponents in the Last 16 round but also further along the road. And that leads straight to the second bullet-point: this World Cup is delivering quite a handful of upsets and surprising results, so the road to the final might be full of ‘land-mines’ along the way.
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) June 24, 2018
A bizarre series of results might cobble together in the same bracket quite an impressive roster of teams: Brazil, France, Germany and Argentina. That’s Spain’s main motivation: to win against Morocco and secure first place, which would place them on the opposite side of the bracket. The Moroccan side is already out of the tournament, but will surely want to display their best football and prove to everyone that their narrow 1-0 losses versus Iran and Portugal were unfair. They won’t give away the three points with ease.