Spain enjoyed a lap of honour on Sunday at La Cartuja, the scene of such rocky relations between team and fans during the European Championship. That feels a long way off now. Since then, La Roja have reached the semi-finals of the Euros, been runners-up in the Nations League and won their World Cup qualifying group. The latter is probably the least impressive of those achievements, but at the same time it was the most necessary. Hence the jubilation, which was heightened by the way qualification was sealed, with Spain starting their campaign so slowly - giving up a disappointing home draw by Greece - but finally getting into their stride and finishing the job courtesy of a late strike (the most satisfying kind of goal) against Sweden, the only truly decent opposition in the group.
Spain hitting targets under Luis Enrique
Luis Enrique deserves credit. The Spain boss is meeting his targets. There’s one thing that’s really good about this team: their commitment to going after every game, to playing on the front foot. There are also things that aren’t so good, however: they don’t score enough goals, they’re often a bit plodding in possession, and they’re particularly bad for our blood pressure when they stroke it out from the back as if they’ve got all the time in the world, as the opposition press right up into goalkeeper Unai López’s area. But that’s Luis Enrique’s style, and he’s not willing to compromise on it. And the players know they have to follow the coach’s game plan to a tee - if they don’t, they’re not asked back. This is, above all, a team of players faithful to Luis Enrique.
Luis Enrique determined to create siege mentality
What I least like about Luis Enrique's Spain is something I also wasn’t very keen on when it came to Javier Clemente’s tenure in the 1990s. They need an outside enemy to bring the group together. Even on Sunday, amid the euphoria of reaching the World Cup, Luis Enrique couldn’t help himself. “As soon as we lose a game, the cannibal holocaust will return,” he told reporters. Blimey. The cannibal holocaust. I think that’s the first time I’ve come across this apocalyptic phrase. Hearing Luis Enrique say that on such a happy occasion, having enjoyed a lap of honour of reconciliation around La Cartuja, I was left with the impression that he was already looking for a way to reestablish the siege mentality he needs to get his lads together into a tight-knit group committed to a common footballing idea.