Rust and pollution have become embedded in the Calatrava arches that crown the Athens Olympic Stadium, the architectural gem of the 2004 Games. In this scenario reminiscent of other eras of economic prosperity in Greece, Luis Enrique’s Spain is measured this Thursday (8:45 p.m., TVE1) against the local team with the aim of being able to face Sweden, Sunday in Seville, for the first place in the group which gives direct access to the Qatar 2022 World Cup. A Spanish defeat and a Swedish victory in Georgia would condemn La Roja to the diabolical play-off which forces them to win two single-game qualifiers. The enterprise to be overcome is crucial because it could leave Spain on the brink of a historic abyss. La Roja has not missed a World Cup since 1974 in Germany. The absence would mark the future of Luis Enrique and also of a generation that is needed to bring Spain back to the top flight. The success of the semi-finals of the last European Championship and the vice-champion of the League of Nations would be buried if the Reds do not dispute Qatar.
The tension is high in the expedition before the stakes. Also in the federation because of the overpressure that would be generated by going to a playoff in which the simple lack of goal or a defensive error can mean a historic blow. Not being in Qatar would mean a complex economic hole for the federal coffers to fix. A World Cup is the manna every four years available to the federations to obtain their own income.
Luis Enrique faces these two games with a call plagued by losses in all the lines of footballers who have been part of the backbone he has been consolidating lately. Ferran Torres, Oyarzabal, Pedri, Eric García, Gerard Moreno, Marcos Llorente and Ansu Fati are some of the notable absences for the momentous double date that La Roja will face. Again, style is the strongest foundation of the team, but also its Achilles heel. This Spain of Luis Enrique has failed to shake off the feeling that he can win, draw or lose with anyone as the lack of strength in both areas has happened more times than desired by the technical staff.
The Gijón coach was surprised that the press had asked so many questions about the pressure he said he felt last Friday when he announced the list. “I see you very worried about the pressure. Blessed pressure”, he slammed in front of the media moved to the Greek capital. “Maybe I made a mistake with the honesty exercise I did the other day when I gave the list,” he admitted. The battery of questions about the existing pressure bothered the Spanish coach so much that it was at the center of the conversation he had with some of his collaborators in an office adjoining the press room.
Luis Enrique wanted to convey calm and found himself dodging questions about the responsibility that hangs over him and his footballers. “You have to be optimistic and think about winning, because that creates positive energy. I am very joyful and positive,” he said when asked about a possible defeat against Greece. “I’m lucky, after the two practices and a third which I hope will be as good, I’m more than optimistic. The pace, the quality of the players, the way we have to train, makes me feel more than confident,” added the Gijón coach. “Every game we had the pressure, I remember against Germany , which had to be won to be in the final phase of the League of Nations, the same with Slovakia to pass the first phase of the European Championship, and the same in the round of 16”. 16, in the quarter-finals and semi-finals “Blessed pressure, the worst is when you’re in a team where there’s no level and you don’t have pressure. This team always played well when they got it.”
Luis Enrique sneered when asked about the influence that the result of Georgia-Sweden disputed before (6:00 p.m.) could have on his footballers. “There is only one game, against Greece, in Athens,” he concluded. “Thinking about what’s to come will only distract us. You have to be ambitious, aim for the game from the start and try to beat an opponent who defends with a lot of people behind the ball. In the subsequent interview he had with his assistants, the message to convey to the Spanish players depending on Sweden’s result was discussed. There were those who even thought they would have preferred this game not to be played tonight.
No Greek hell in the stands
Greek federation employees have estimated that there will be at most around 25,000 spectators in the Athens Olympic Stadium. The authorized capacity, out of a total of around 75,000 spectators, is 80%, but this quota will not be reached, despite the fact that Greece still have a chance to be first in the group if they win the two remaining matches. . Greek fans are overwhelmed with disappointment at their side, who have not played in a major competition since the 2008 European Championship. The coach, Dutchman Van’t Schip, assured that they would ask problems for Spain”. And Luis Enrique warns: “It’s a very well organized team, in Seville (1-1) we generated less in attack than we would have liked. Now they have changed the system and they have the possibility to play more and counter-attack when they get the ball back”.
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