Spain shine on road to Russia

Sunday Observer - - SPORT -

MADRID - Of­ten over­shad­owed by off-field dis­trac­tions, Spain's thrilling World Cup qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign has shown a side laced with ris­ing stars and proven win­ners can rule the world again in Russia next year.

Af­ter a week in which play­ers and coach Julien Lopetegui were grilled at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity on the ris­ing po­lit­i­cal ten­sion sweep­ing across Spain caused by Cat­alo­nia's drive for in­de­pen­dence, Lopetegui's men did their talk­ing on the field by sweep­ing aside Al­ba­nia on Fri­day night to guar­an­tee their place at the World Cup.

A three-goal spurt in 11 first-half min­utes took La Roja's tally in nine qual­i­fy­ing games to a might­ily im­pres­sive 35 goals as a new gen­er­a­tion of tal­ent has in­jected the fresh blood needed af­ter em­bar­rass­ing early ex­its as de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons at World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016.

The big­gest cloud hang­ing over Spain's World Cup can­di­dacy re­mains how desta­bil­is­ing the po­lit­i­cal process could be to the har­mony of the group.

Ger­ard Pique was jeered in Ali­cante on Fri­day, as he rou­tinely is on Spain duty, for his out­spo­ken de­fence of Cat­alo­nia's right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, al­though he has never pub­licly backed in­de­pen­dence. Ser­gio Bus­quets and Jordi Alba are the other Cata­lan play­ers who are key parts of Lopetegui's strong­est side, but both avoid the po­lit­i­cal spot­light.

"Many things have hap­pened since our ar­rival, but we have al­ways tried to take the best de­ci­sions think­ing about what is best for the team and our com­mon ob­jec­tive ," said Lopetegui, who is now un­beaten in 13 games since re­plac­ing Vi­cente del Bosque af­ter Euro 2016. "I think it is time to start fo­cus­ing on pos­i­tive news in foot­ball and in the coun­try be­cause there are very good things.

"It is like when you see a very good paint­ing with a speck of dust and you fo­cus on the speck of dust rather than the paint­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Swaziland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.