1:30 PM GMT
Graham HunterSpain writer
- Graham Hunter is simply a Barcelona-based freelance writer for ESPN.com who specializes successful La Liga and the Spanish nationalist team.
DOHA, Qatar -- When Spain broke their 44-year trophy drought by beating Germany 1-0 successful the Euro 2008 final, Luis Enrique had conscionable enactment himself done carnal and intelligence torture. Spain's existent manager, with a squad of friends, ran, walked, hobbled and dragged himself crossed 251km successful the blistering vigor of the Sahara Desert to implicit the infamous "Marathon des Sables."
Carrying 35kg of supplies, with h2o and nutrient being the main constituents, he, similar each the competitors, slept successful open-sided structure structures crossed six agonising days and nights during which pain, tiredness, blisters, sunburn and intelligence strain were his changeless companions. He completed the marathon, of course, due to the fact that helium is 1 tough, fanatically driven, earthy jock who admits helium thrives connected adversity. In fact, helium prefers it.
The winners that twelvemonth were some Moroccan, for the archetypal time, and the conception of the Sahara wherever this lawsuit was calved (and continues to baffle immoderate of america whose top situation is 25 coagulated minutes connected the gym treadmill) is successful confederate Morocco. But present it is Morocco's Atlas Lions who Luis Enrique indispensable bushed to advancement successful the World Cup and they could beryllium a stringent trial of each carnal and intelligence fibre helium has.
The information that the 52 twelvemonth aged volition beryllium retired of declaration whenever Spain's tourney is implicit means that Morocco could feasibly enactment an extremity to what person been 4 enjoyable years of "Lucho-ball." Away wins successful England and Italy, a 6-0 thrashing of Germany (Die Mannschaft's grounds defeat), different 6-0 hammering of Croatia, the archetypal competitory triumph successful Portugal since 1934, a European Championship semifinal, a Nations League final, positive different semifinal successful that tourney to travel adjacent June.
Not bad, Luis Enrique, not bad. But this, successful shot terms, is the Holy Grail.
The lone 2 times Spain won the World Cup, astatine elder and Under-20 level, endurance, discomfort and suffering were the bid of the day.
In 1999, Xavi, Iker Casillas, Carlos Marchena and institution took the U20 rubric successful Nigeria. Their experiences successful summary: determination was a shooting extracurricular their Calabar edifice erstwhile they arrived; cockroaches, lizards and rats everyplace successful their hotel; they were forced to slumber 2 players to a bed; Xavi got truthful sick helium shed kilograms successful value helium couldn't spend to lose; and manager Inaki Saez was informed that his parent had died.
Then, successful 2010, the existent thing. In South Africa, similar now, Spain's players slept successful assemblage accommodation. Unlike present it was utterly basic: tiny rooms, two-bar heaters connected the wall, nary cardinal heating, a tiled floor, a azygous bed, a TV up connected the partition with a surface conscionable astir bigger than an iPad oregon PC. And currency robbed from a mates of the rooms successful Durban.
The tourney itself was a conflict connected muddy, unpredictable pitches. There was a 1-0 opening lucifer decision to Switzerland, Andres Iniesta's emergence from a heavy and devastating twelvemonth of depression, past hostility and nerves amongst the squad during the all-or-nothing radical games against Honduras and Chile similar nary of Vicente del Bosque's players had experienced earlier oregon since.
But they thrived. They won. They became legends.
At Qatar 2022, aft a 7-0 opening triumph implicit Costa Rica, Spain person lone suffered connected the pitch. Particularly successful the past 15 minutes of the 1-1 gully against Germany and the 2nd fractional successful the 2-1 decision against Japan. Their assemblage accommodation is superb: elegant, spacious, comfortable, lavish marble everyplace and a abbreviated physics scooter thrust from first-class grooming facilities. A large gym and physio rooms successful the "hostel," positive a immense leisure salon for the players to either portion distant their escaped hours oregon to entertain household members erstwhile they've had play visits. That is if they don't each caput down to the formation -- player, wife, kids -- similar respective chose to connected Saturday.
There's nary examination with 1999 oregon 2010. However, present the suffering arrives.
Spain, arsenic assured and harmonious a radical arsenic they whitethorn be, neither look aggravated nor ferocious capable to woody with Morocco successful a mode which reflects the immense spread successful the comparative achievements of each squad's players.
There are, astatine best, 3 candidates from Walid Regragui's squad (goalkeeper Bono, full-back Achraf Hakimi and midfielder Sofyan Amrabat) who mightiness descent into the champion Spain XI. However, the Atlas Lions are compact, aggressive, speedy connected the counter, assured and present -- acknowledgment to Switzerland successful September and Japan the different time -- Morocco besides person the nonstop template of however to hurt, and perchance beat, Luis Enrique's team.
La Roja stay bully capable successful presumption of talent, playing ideas, domination of the shot and desire, to sound Morocco retired and advancement to either different Iberian showdown with Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal oregon a rematch with Switzerland -- sides against whom they've played a expansive full of 9 times successful the past 2 years.
And, let's not bushed astir the bush, Spain should bash conscionable that. The occupation is that, connected perchance its past outing, "Lucho-ball" is conscionable a interaction deflated.
The coach's watchwords of "attack, press, ambition" aren't being fixed their afloat meaning. Against Germany helium disquieted that successful the past 20 minutes "we lacked the self-confidence to spell aft different extremity and to seal the win." Against Japan, helium spoke astir "five minutes of madness" (when Japan turned a 1-0 shortage into a 2-1 win), but not capable attraction was fixed to the information that erstwhile Spain were bossing the archetypal fractional determination was a chiseled deficiency of assertive pressing, of objective attacking, and of the ambition to enactment the lucifer to furniture portion they were intelligibly superior to their opponents.
Yet there's a question of emotion for Spain's shot from media, pundits and fans. TV expert Gary Neville's "superior team, champion successful possession, champion retired of possession, champion coached" eulogy astatine half-time against Japan wasn't retired of spot due to the fact that of what happened next, but alternatively due to the fact that Spain, by their and their coach's standards successful that archetypal 45 minutes, were slow, toothless, mistake prone and flat. If you watched Luis Enrique's assemblage connection and yelling astatine his squad you'd person understood that.
I dislike the existent "love-in" not due to the fact that La Roja don't play attractive, intelligent, attacking absorbing football. They do; they basal retired for it. At slightest successful presumption of a philosophy. But due to the fact that backmost successful 2010 determination was, comparatively, a splurge of disapproval for Del Bosque's soon-to-be satellite champions.
When Spain snuck done the radical and past won 1-0 4 times against Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and Netherlands determination was the consistent, erroneous and dull-minded critique that they were "boring." In fact, Spain played precise likewise past but with 2 antithetic factors.
ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti defends Morocco aft Spain decorativeness 2nd successful their radical and look them successful the circular of 16.
First, they were hugely amended arsenic a squad -- much talented, experienced, populated by genuine shot legends, and brutally tough-minded. But they played, passed and ran to win, not solely to tyre the hostile out. They wanted to instrumentality teams apart, adjacent against packed defences.
The 2nd difference: with the objection of Germany, their rivals didn't privation to dance. On mediocre pitches, astir each their rivals thought they could bog Spain down successful a warfare of attrition and bully them retired of the tourney acknowledgment to stodgy, dull tactics. They couldn't.
In Qatar, sides judge that they tin property and harass Luis Enrique's side, that determination volition beryllium errors and that Spain, if successful distress, won't rather person the property oregon the aggression to propulsion a shortage backmost successful their favour. They whitethorn beryllium right. It'll beryllium bittersweet if the mode Luis Enrique has Spain thinking, trying, inventing and playing ends successful the circular of 16 of this unusual World Cup. His prime whether to spell oregon enactment astir apt won't beryllium influenced by the result, but the mode of Spain's playing might. If helium leaves.
Morocco, whether the Marathon de Sables oregon these 2 countries' fourth-ever competitory shot lucifer (two draws and a azygous extremity triumph for La Roja) means a trial of fortitude, of mentality, of attitude. Are Spain's players arsenic tough, arsenic determined and driven arsenic their coach?