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Spain gives Catalonia reason for cheer on welcome La Roja return


In the end, the Spain national team’s return to Catalonia after 18 years was a happy event with Luis Enrique’s team beating Albania through a late Dani Olmo goal, the winger placing the ball in the top corner with a shot that appeared to be remote-controlled. Espanyol’s Cornellà stadium, which had been silenced shortly beforehand by Albania’s equalizer, was on its feet again. The stadium was full, with fans who had come to cheer and support the side. In the first 15 minutes they were treated to some good football and in the final 15 to three goals. After the whistle, they filed out having enjoyed a hard-fought victory against a decent team, who have more to them than the name might suggest. This was no tomato can. It was a serious sparring session.

It was a game that, on the whole, was taken very seriously: by the public, as should be the case for an official match; by Luis Enrique, who named a strong side with a bench and changes to match; and by Albania, who matched defensive solidity with some excellent attacking breaks, particularly on the right-hand side. Spain pressed and harried and nobody slacked off. The test served to reinforce the positive impression we have of this Spain side, and also the not-so-positive aspects of the coach’s work in progress. The upside is the organization and collective effort, the general sacrifice in pressing and movement off the ball. The downside is wastefulness at the attacking end of the pitch and, in my view more serious, a lack of coherence at the back.

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Yeremi and Olmo state their claims

Of the starting front three – Ferran Torres, Álvaro Morata and Pablo Sarabia – only the former was on the ball. Spain were more incisive in the second half when Olmo and Yeremi Pino were introduced to operate either side of the Barcelona forward. Until then the home side had only managed a couple of long-range punts from Rodrigo and little more. In terms of the defence, it was the same story as usual: every time the opposition broke forward, they created danger. We have central defenders who play very good football, but they rarely make the right decision. Albania’s goal came from a Pau Torres mistake, the Villarreal defender lacking the confidence to deal with a ball into the area and suicidally attempting to clear under pressure, the ball rebounding off Myrto Uzuni and past debutant keeper David Raya, who himself was adrift in no-man’s land.