Luis Enrique wanted to give Spain’s supporters a ‘show’ at Qatar 2022 – but in the end his side were sent home with accusations of being ‘boring’ ringing in their ears.
Despite dominating possession in their second-round match against Morocco on Tuesday, Spain were knocked out of the World Cup on penalties as the African side booked a historic quarter-final against Portugal.
It is now 10 years since Spain won their last major trophy, when they won back-to-back Euros and a World Cup in four years, and they have not progressed past the last 16 since they won the World Cup in 2010.
Spanish football expert Guillem Balague said Spain were “miles away” from competing with the top nations, but is it the end for manager Luis Enrique and his ‘passing experiment’?Spain had 77% of possession and made 1,019 passes – 926 were accurate – compared to Morocco’s 304.
They ended the match, though, with just six shots and one shot on target as, time and time again, their patient passing approach was brilliantly rebuffed by a well-organised Morocco.
The pattern of the game was almost inevitable for a Spain side who rarely play a central striker – only bringing on Alvaro Morata as a focal point – and who had made 1,058 passes in their defeat by Japan in the group stage.
Their one shot on target is the lowest they have managed in a World Cup since this data was available (1966), while they become the first nation to lose four World Cup penalty shootouts and just the second side to not score in one.
Those penalty woes are even more miserable when you consider Luis Enrique stated his side had practised 1,000 penalties in training.
“I chose the takers, I thought they were the best on the pitch,” Enrique said. “[If I could change something] I would take [Morocco keeper Yassine] Bounou away and put another goalkeeper there. [Penalties] are not a lottery for me. You have to control yourself. “What we did was dominate the game but we lacked the goal, that is the reality, that is the truth.”
Former Spain midfielder Luis Enrique, 52, is out of contract this summer after being appointed boss in 2018. He stepped away for a short period in 2019 because his late daughter had been diagnosed with bone cancer, before returning and guiding Spain to the Euro 2020 semi-finals, where they lost to Italy on penalties.
He said: “Next week we will speak and discuss about my future, now it’s not the right moment – I’m the one responsible. “If it was up to me, I would stay all my life, but that is not the case. I have to think calmly what is the best for me and for the national team.
All situations will have an influence.” Spain drew plaudits for their style and established themselves as the world’s leading nation under Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque in their era of domination between 2008 and 2012.
And Luis Enrique has defiantly stuck to the same possession-based approach throughout his time with the national team, despite continually coming up short at the major tournaments.
Ballague, said: “Spain just haven’t been good enough. Morocco had a better projection of the game plan than we did. We had a game plan but couldn’t affect the game and we didn’t change or look for alternatives, because we don’t have them. “In the country there wasn’t a lot of expectation.
Now failing here is celebrated in Spain – because there will be 100,000 Moroccans celebrating in Spain. “Now it lets us debate what next. Luis Enrique is out of contract this summer and do we keep with Enrique who, stubborn as he is, will stick with his idea, or do we look for something new?”
The Spain boss has defended his approach throughout the tournament, saying ‘football is a show and not for boring people’. But, having lost to Japan and Morocco now in Qatar, did he get his approach wrong? “When you see the best of Spain, it is when the other team want the ball and you can find space,” Ballague said. “Teams that can win the World Cup right now, France, England, Brazil, they have much more than we have.
“We haven’t shot from outside the box, we haven’t put crosses in, we are not physical, not very fast. We don’t play long because we don’t have someone that can hold the ball, we are not very good at set-pieces. You need to have more.”Spanish media did not spare the national team, calling Spain’s loss to Morocco on penalties “terrible” and “catastrophic”.,
Spanish newspapers like El Pais and La Vanguardia immediately published headlines like “For Spain possession was not enough” and “Spain will not go on”. Spain’s “great fiasco” ended with “a destructive batch of penalties”,
El Mundo added in a separate report, before concluding that Spain “has a good team, but that, without success, is not worth much”.