Luis Enrique’s new Spain rolled with the punches

Eight months, a few missteps and plenty of distractions later, Spain sealed their place at the 2022 World Cup with an unconvincing 1-0 win over Sweden in Seville.

A campaign that started in March with a 1-1 draw at home against Greece, needed a winner in added time in Georgia four days later and resulted in a loss to Sweden in the September second leg. had more nervous moments at Estadio La Cartuja on Sunday night. , as their final group stage game entered its final minutes, with neither team having a shot on target.

But Alvaro Morata, so often the symbol of this hard-to-understand Spanish side, scored a goal in the 85th minute to ensure Luis Enrique’s side qualified for Qatar as the group winner, avoiding the 12-point play-offs. teams in March to decide who occupies the bottom three places in Europe.

Spanish fans are not used to such torment so soon – this loss in Sweden was their first defeat in World Cup qualifying since 1993, a streak of 66 games without being beaten at home or away.

The conquering generation led by Iker Casillas and Xavi didn’t just sail through the qualifying groups; from 2008 to 2012 they won tournaments in a row: two euros and the 2010 World Cup. Even as these conquering powers waned, they still qualified easily – nine wins and a draw on their way to Russia 2018, eight wins and two draws to make Euro 2020.

Luis Enrique’s attempt to make it to Qatar 2022 brought a whole new level of drama and excitement – when the team reunited last Monday, there was a realistic possibility that Spain would miss a first FIFA Cup. world since 1974.

Instead of worrying about it, the hard-hitting Asturian and his team embraced the uncertainty.

“I see you very worried about the pressure,” Luis Enrique told Spanish journalists who were often skeptical when he arrived in Athens for Thursday’s essential penultimate qualifying match against third-placed Greece.