Spain began their campaign to qualify for the 2022 World Cup with a busted flush, a draw at home the consequences of which remain to be determined. We are only starting out but in Spain’s group along with the three nations Luis Enrique’s side play in this international break (Greece, Georgia and Kosovo) are Sweden, who now top the table after beating Georgia. It is worth remembering that only the group winner qualifies directly for the World Cup. Second-placed teams go into a playoff round featuring 12 countries from which only three will go through after two rounds of knock-out matches. The prospect of finishing second is not an appealing one. There is still plenty of time but as things stand Spain are third.
Luis Enrique put out almost the same side that thrashed Germany 6-0 in the Nations League last November but Greece did not play as Germany did that day. Joachim Löw’s side were open but sluggish. John van’t Schip’s side were tight and alert. Against this defensive set-up Spain played what journalist Iñaki Gabilondo described as football-handball: horizontal from side-to-side on the edge of the area and then back to square one. In handball this is rectified by the punishment for “passive play,” but no such penalty exists in football. The first was excruciating in its lack of brio and danger. Half an hour had passed before Spain struck, first with Dani Olmo hitting the bar and then through Álvaro Morata’s volley, courtesy of a glorious ball from Koke. Two shafts of light among Spain’s tactic of death by a thousand passes.
Greece throw a spanner in Luis Enrique's works
To add insult to injury, after the break Greece equalized without even trying. On practically their first foray into the Spain are, Iñigo Martínez, who had replaced Sergio Ramos at half time, cleared a loose ball but then imprudently raised his boot into the knee of Giorgos Masouras. A penalty was awarded and Anastasios Bakasetas duly dispatched it with Greece’s only shot of the game. Luis Enrique elected to send on more players with the ability to get behind the Greek defence and it almost paid off. Debutant Bryan Gil, a classic winger who likes to take defenders on, constantly broke through but lacked the final ball. The goal that would have lifted the weight of an absurd penalty concession did not materialize. It was a bad night for Spain and a bad result.