It’s never a great sign to go into an opening match of a tournament with all the talk dominated by those not playing, rather than the XI who are. But that’s what Spain have had to cope with as they get ready to take on Sweden in their Group E opener.
The other line surrounding the European heavyweights revolves around the ‘their Golden Generation is now long gone’ talk (expect to hear that line bandied about a lot over the coming weeks…), but one of their squad who was part of the sides that won two Euros and the 2010 World Cup is Sergio Busquets. He is the first player who won’t be playing this evening. The captain – who is definitely their most experienced player, but also arguably their best – has been ruled out due to testing positive for Covid. Spain will miss both that knowhow and guile as they bid to get off to a winning start in Seville.
The other player who won’t play a part in tonight’s clash is Sergio Ramos. The Real Madrid enforcer was left out of the squad – a move that shocked more than a few people beyond Spain’s borders. His and Busquets’ absences has lead to questions regarding a possible lack of on-pitch leadership.
Keen to go into the Sweden match only talking positives Luis Enrique said Spain’s XI, whoever he picks, will be full of leaders.
“This team doesn’t need leadership, there’s 23 players who can provide that,” the Spain coach said on Sunday.
“I’m also one of the leaders, for better or worse. Every coach should be a leader but in this team, everyone should lead from the pitch. They have to get that from themselves. But our strength is our group and we’re well prepared.”
Going into the tournament on the back of a Covid outbreak – one that also means Diego Llorente isn’t available for tonight’s match – is less than ideal (to state the obvious). Enrique, however, said his plans have not changed as a result.
“Recent events haven’t altered my plan,” he said. “I’ve had a very clear plan for a long time, although coaches always have to adapt to circumstances. We may not be able to count upon our captain but I have a very squad and I’m delighted with it.”
Of Sweden the Spain boss added: “Sweden is a team that plays in a very direct way and has very strong players, with pace and quality. They will play lots of long balls and it won’t be easy but we’ll try and play an intense game.”
Stay here for all the team news, pre-match action and the match itself.