On the Sunday which saw Rafa Nadal draw level on fourteen with Real Madrid, it ended with the Spanish national team offering up a less celebratory draw in Prague. A lesser evil, as we were losing coming into the closing stages, which would have made it especially difficult for us, as at that point the Czech Republic had six points, Portugal four and we only had one. The equaliser, a deserved header by Iñigo Martínez from a perfect Asensio header (with some VAR intrigue thrown in), left the standings at four, four and two, with nothing yet for Switzerland, which is not so bad. Spain controlled much of the game but revealed their vulnerable side: with nothing more than three long passes, the Czechs scored two goals and gave us a big scare.
Spain’s defensive frailties
It’s true that it was, to a large extent, the Spanish reserve team, as only Unai Simón, Gavi and Sarabia had been in the team for Portugal. It’s also true that the Czechs sat back and waited for us throughout the first half, with a 5-4-1 formation that was very hard to penetrate. But the tactic of moving the defence forward no matter what proved to be very costly yesterday. In the first instance, Carvajal hesitated, broke the offside trap and they scored. In the second, the pass evaded both our centre-backs and Kuchta narrowly missed. In the third, Eric failed to cut out the pass, Kuchta was in again on his own and this time scored with a perfect lob over Simon.
Spain’s sustained attack
At the other end of the pitch Spain put in a sustained attacking effort that provided two goals and an effort off the post. Gavi’s equaliser, with fine control and shot from inside the area, was perhaps aided by the fact that the Czechs were down to ten men at the time, perhaps allowing a gap or two that had not been there before. Gavi is there for everything: to run, to battle, to put in deep passes, to score... and even to take corners from both sides. He and Busquets, who came on as Rodri couldn’t quite get it together, are at the head of the half-dozen indispensable players in this team, one that has both discipline and solidarity, but often gifts opponents something at the back.