Tiki-taka's end? Spain embrace new 'clinical' edge

Luis de la Fuente says Spain don’t need to have the ball to do damage after beating Croatia 3-0 at Euro 2024 but losing the possession battle for the first time in 136 competitive games.

Spain had only 47% possession against Croatia, but first-half goals from Álvaro Morata, Fabián Ruiz and Dani Carvajal ensured they kicked off the tournament with a win at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin on Saturday.

You have to go back to the Euro 2008 final, which Spain won against Germany, to find the last time La Roja‘s opponents had more possession than them in an official match.

“Maybe in other times, having more of the ball guaranteed better results,” Spain coach De la Fuente said in the postgame news conference.

“Now, we are a team that can surprise opponents like we did today. We are satisfied; I think we did well. We used the ball with a lot of sense and were clinical in the final third. It shows that you don’t have to have so much of the ball if you’re a team like us, with pace.”

It signals a change in Spain’s possession-heavy style, with De la Fuente’s shift coming on the back of the emergence of wingers Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal.

Yamal, who became the youngest player to ever play in the Euros at 16 years and 338 days old against Croatia, set up the third goal for Carvajal with a brilliant cross.

Ruiz had earlier set up the opener for Morata before scoring the second himself after beating two Croatian defenders on the edge of the box.

“I am very satisfied, but all the credit goes to the players,” De la Fuente added. “They read the game well and controlled the different phases magnificently.

“We can still improve, but I am proud of the players today. It’s a pleasure to work with them; they make the job easy. They are insatiable and don’t settle.

“But we have our feet on the ground, and when tonight passes we will think about Italy. It’s a long tournament and it’s only just started.”

De la Fuente played down the injuries picked up by Morata and Manchester City midfielder Rodri, suggesting both will be fit for Thursday’s second Group B game against Italy in Gelsenkirchen.

“It is nothing serious,” he said. “Morata had a blow on the calf, and Rodri was just fatigue. He had put a lot in [to the game] and asked for the change. We want to manage the players as much as we can.”

After Italy, Spain close the group phase against Albania in Dusseldorf on June 24.

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