5th December 2022 – (Doha) Spain faces Morocco in the last 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday with a few questions to be asked of Luis Enrique’s side.
Spain was imperious in beating Costa Rica 7-0 in their opening match of the tournament, before being held to a 1-1 draw by Germany and then seeing how Japan stunned them with a 2-1 defeat in their last group match.
That defeat came after a first half in which Spain took the lead and restricted their rivals to just 14 percent of possession during the match. Indeed, the Japanese had just 17 percent of the ball in the entire game, but were able to disrupt the Spanish rhythm after the break in a 20-minute spell in which they ran them ragged.
For a brief three minutes, the Spanish even had one foot out of the tournament as Costa Rica briefly led Germany 2-1, with Spain coach Enrique admitting he “would have had a heart attack if he’d known.”
Germany’s 4-2 win against Costa Rica eventually saved Spain and the hope for the Spanish must now be that the shock to the system has ended any over-confidence ahead of Monday.
It’s hard to see the coach making any changes to his Barcelona trio of Pedri, Gavi and Sergio Busquets in midfield, but Aymeric Laporte and Jordi Alba will be back to add steel and experience to the defense, while Ferran Torres will probably replace Nico Williams in attack.
The Spanish will stay true to their passing style, although Enrique will be well-advised to tell goalkeeper, Unai Simon that not every ball from the back has to be a short pass, after some recent scares.
Morocco qualified after winning Group F and will have taken note of how Japan was able to disrupt Spain. The Moroccans have a powerful side, led by Youssey En-Nesyri, who plies his trade in LaLiga with Sevilla (along with goalkeeper Bono) and Chelsea’s Hakin Ziyech, who should provide inspiration out wide if needed.
Right back Achraf Hakimi is another with Spanish connections after being formed in the Real Madrid youth system, while Sofyan Amrabat is a fixture for Italian side Fiorentina.
Spain will be favorites to start, but the confidence surrounding their World Cup hopes was dented by the Japanese, which might be a wake-up call for the Spanish or a dose of reality.