“It was hard to sleep but today is another day,” Ona Batlle said. The morning after a 2-0 defeat by Germany and Spain were trying to process something they had not experienced for a long time: 1,221 days had passed since they had last been beaten. Now they have to ensure it doesn’t happen again against Denmark. One loss in three years can be overcome; two in four days would be a disaster, the end of their Euros.
A draw on Saturday against Denmark would be enough to take Spain through, although it will be England who await. History had beckoned on Tuesday and defeat hit hard. “We were really gutted; it wasn’t the result we wanted,” Leila Ouahabi said. “But we knew it could happen. Now we have to turn the page and think about Denmark.”
Losing to Germany, who they have never beaten at senior level, was always a possibility. And if the way it happened hurt, the flaws familiar, it also offers comfort. That, at least, was what Spain held on to. “On the one hand there is the play; on the other there is the result,” the coach, Jorge Vilda, said. The goalkeeper Sandra Paños hit a pass straight to Klara Bühl to open the scoring after three minutes – the second game in a row in which they had conceded early, having gone behind after 49 seconds against Finland – and Alexandra Popp headed a second from a corner before half-time. Spain had 66% possession but were unable to score.
Germany’s coach, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, had said before the game that it would be a clash of footballing cultures; after, she laughed when it was put to her that what unfolded was more extreme than even she had imagined. “Exactly,” she said.
The debate around Spain is inevitable, ready to be revived after a defeat: theories about whether they lack a Plan B or a striker – as the final minutes played out, Vilda did not introduce Esther González or Amaiur Sarriegi, their natural No 9s – whether there is a vulnerability about them, a lack of nastiness, edge, or physicality, and the wisdom of playing out.
But this is the first time they had lost since March 2019, since when they had won 20 of 24 games, scored 113 and conceded four. They are missing their two top scorers and arguably two of the best players in the world, Jenni Hermoso and Alexia Putellas. And it is a debate that is largely on the outside. There was support for Paños – “a great goalkeeper in whom we have total trust,” Ouahabi called her – and a determination for her to keep playing as she does. After all Spain had twice as many chances and attacks as Germany.
Voss-Tecklenburg showed an appreciation for Spain in her analysis and perhaps a lesson for future opponents too. Germany had changed their approach because of the quality of the selección. There had been two options: press high, which she admitted they could not do for 90 minutes, or defend deep. The opening goal, partly prompted by the former, allowed them to switch to the latter with a lead to protect, moving to a 4-5-1. “The plan was also to score from dead balls: we have trained all of that for weeks,” she said. “We were willing to suffer. We found the right tools against the right team.”
Spain’s tools do not change, even if mistakes will be addressed. Asked whether defeat meant Spain were no longer favourites, Ouahabi responded: “We’re the same people we always were.
“I don’t think that defensively we suffered excessively,” the full-back added. “There were errors that were punished but the team was OK defensively. Every team has its strong points. Germany are very good from dead balls. They were effective, and that’s that. We have to focus on our strengths. Maybe we have to be a bit more effective with our chances. You’re competing against teams of the highest level.
“What we have to do is play our way, believe in ourselves, be strong. We have to take this forward, think about Denmark. People talk and talk but we’ll support each other. There’s always criticism, but we’ll sort this out. Trust us, support us. Reproach and criticism won’t take us anywhere; we have to all pull together. Don’t give us up for dead.”
July 15, 2022 at 08:51PM Sid Lowe