Spain coach Luis Enrique believes Tuesday’s Euro 2020 semifinal against Italy could hinge on who dominates possession.
Spain broke a tournament record for possession in their opening game against Sweden but had little to show for it as the game finished 0-0.
However, Enrique said his team, rather like this new-look Italy side that have captured neutrals’ hearts, were most comfortable with the ball at their feet.
“That’s one of the first questions to settle. We are leaders in ball possession but they can also make use of it and enjoy the ball, that’ll be the first battle we need to conquer,” Luis Enrique told a news conference on Monday.
“They can adapt to not having the ball, they’ve done that in the tournament in certain stages but they’re more comfortable with the ball and stronger with it.
“Our objective is clear, we want the ball, we need it, if we have to do something different we will adapt but we prefer to have possession of the ball.”
Italy has played a big role in Luis Enrique’s career as he got his first major coaching job with AS Roma a decade ago before going on to take charge of Celta Vigo, Barcelona and the Spanish national side.
He has vivid memories of facing Italy as a player too, in particular when Mauro Tassotti broke his nose in a 1994 World Cup quarterfinal defeat with a flying elbow that went unpunished on the day, although led to the defender being served an eight-game ban.
The coach laughed when the infamous moment was raised but said he had moved on from it.
“It’s been so many years, and my nose is all the better for it. I’ve spoken to Tassotti since and he’s an honest, good guy. It’s formed part of our history, although I’m sure both of us would have preferred that moment to go differently,” he said.
“I have a great memory of my time in Italy and the people so it’s not relevant. This is a great semifinal game where Spain and Italy have the chance to reach the final and the rest is just history.”
Forward Pablo Sarabia is Spain’s only absentee while Italy are likely to bring in Emerson at left-back for Leonardo Spinazzola, who tore his Achilles tendon in the quarterfinal win over Belgium.
There will be few Italian or Spanish supporters at the match at Wembley due to England’s coronavirus restrictions on visitors. Luis Enrique conceded it would be “strange” to have so few fans from the two teams in the crowd but said he would not “waste energy on things I can’t control”.