We, in Spain, are still savoring that 5-3 win over Croatia, made even sweeter by France's defeat to Switzerland, which has left us with a potentially easier crossing to the semi-final.
Played one after the other on Monday, the two games over 90 minutes were almost identical in terms of emotion and plot development. Spain and France both went 1-0 down before overturning a one-goal deficit to go 3-1 up, at which point both games appeared to be done and dusted. But riding a surge in confidence and belief, their respective opponents, Croatia and Switzerland, both surprisingly scored two late goals to force extra time.
And it was in extra time that the plot lines began diverged. Spain scored two goals to win 5-3, while France, unable to score, were forced to go to penalties, where they lost following Kylian Mbappé’s miss in the fifth round. Altogether it was a superbly entertaining evening of football, and I’m struggling to remember another like it.
Spain grows from strength to strength
Spain’s up-and-down journey in this tournament has only served to strengthen this group of players as they head into the quarter finals. Things started badly with the withdrawal of Sergio Busquets for the first two games (two limp draws against Sweden and Poland), where the gravity of his absence was only fully realized upon his return for the third game, when Luis Enrique turned things around with a 5-0 win over Slovakia. Then, against Croatia, there was the gifted goal, the turnaround, the comeback, extra time and the reaction that France could not muster.
It can be said, then, that mishaps strengthen a group. I have always suspected that Luis Enrique sought to unite his squad by creating external enemies, preferably the press. Now he no longer needs to... the group is now united because it has survived more traps than the hero of one of those Chinese movies from my childhood.
Just watching them you can see that there are no starters or substitutes; that they are all as one when the time comes to supporting one of their teammates who has had a tough time, be it Álvaro Morata or Unai Simón. While there are no contenders for the Ballon d'Or in this team, there is a formidable unity of purpose that has been reinforced by the adversities they have faced.