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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

FIFA World Cup 2018: ‘Spain being stretched by Morocco not a worry’

FIFA World Cup group games are where teams take some risks but it will be different in the knockout rounds, says former Spain striker Fernando Morientes.

football Updated: Jun 27, 2018 09:49 IST

Fernando Morientes, Hindustan Times
Spain will take on hosts Russia in the pre-quarterfinals of FIFA World Cup 2018 on Sunday (July 1).
Spain will take on hosts Russia in the pre-quarterfinals of FIFA World Cup 2018 on Sunday (July 1). (AFP)

Monday’s games nicely summed up the story of the FIFA World Cup so far. Spain and Portugal went through to the round of 16 but it was some fight that Morocco and Iran put up! The group stages have had an interesting mix of upsets and top teams having to stretch every sinew to get victories. That is what makes this tournament so interesting.

Spain were carved open by a number of counter-attacks from Morocco, who led twice on the night. Till Iago Aspas scored with a cheeky back-heel that needed a little help from VAR, Spain were seconds from losing to Morocco.

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A breakdown in communication between Sergio Ramos and Andre Iniesta led to Khalib Boutaib nutmegging David de Gea. Iniesta created the equaliser for Isco but for all of Spain’s domination and possession, it was Youssef En-Neysri who towered above Ramos to ensure that Morocco were not going out quietly. Spain did not let their shoulders droop and Aspas proved to be an inspired substitution by Fernando Hierro when he made it 2-2 with a cheeky flick.

I understand the concerns Spain’s fans in India would have about how vulnerable they looked on the break against Morocco. From Kochi, where I am in connection with La Liga team Girona FC’s visit during which they will play against Melbourne City FC and Kerala Blasters on Friday and Saturday, I would like to assure them that you will see a different Spain in the knockout rounds. Group games are where you take some risks and I am sure Fernando Hierro will plan accordingly. Long story short, I am not worried.

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Hierro has been a mate for club and country and given the circumstances, I think he was the right choice. He has been part of the Spanish FA for long, knows this group really well and has vast experience as a player.

I know he hasn’t coached at the highest level but wasn’t Zinedine Zidane given the responsibility of Real Madrid’s first team after being with their B team and didn’t Pep Guardiola take Barcelona to great heights after working in the third division? Also, Hierro has coached Oviedo in the Spanish second division and assisted Carlo Ancelotti at Real.

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The circumstances around Julen Lopetegui’s dismissal were unusual and many teams would have been affected by it. But we have a very experienced group of players who knew exactly what they had to do in this situation. They never lost focus and I am certain Spain have been able to put the Lopetegui episode behind them.

I remember France ’98 because it was my first World Cup. I remember the two goals I scored against Bulgaria like they happened yesterday. My generation had a number of good players but we couldn’t do it as a team and hence always came up short. Our golden generation was the one which won everything from 2008 to 2012. Some of them are still in this team and that gives me hope.

DISCLAIMER: Fernando Morientes is a La Liga ambassador and former striker who played 182 games for Real Madrid, scoring 72 goals. He scored 27 goals for Spain in 47 games and played the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.

First Published: Jun 27, 2018 09:45 IST

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