Enrique eyes Nations League ‘prize’ ahead of Italy rematch
October 06 2021 12:06 AM
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Spain’s head coach Luis Enrique (centre) looks on as his players attend a training session ahead of
Spain’s head coach Luis Enrique (centre) looks on as his players attend a training session ahead of the Nations League semi-final against Italy at the San Siro stadium in Milan yesterday.

AFP/ Milan

Luis Enrique insisted yesterday that the Nations League is an important goal for Spain as they prepare for a rematch with Italy, who knocked them out of Euro 2020. Spain face Final Four hosts Italy at the San Siro today looking for some form of revenge for their penalty-shootout defeat in the semi-finals of the European Championship, and Luis Enrique says his young team need to aim big. “It’s a prize for us. We’re one of four best teams of the year and that’s very stimulating for us,” Luis Enrique told reporters.
“We’ll try to progress and hopefully win something. This is a big, big prize for us and we need to show the ambition that we’ve lost in recent years. We need to try to progress but most of all we need to enjoy it.”
In his squad is 17-year-old Barcelona midfielder Gavi, who after being picked by Luis Enrique made his just his fifth ever La Liga appearance at the weekend. He lines up in the squad alongside Barca teammate Sergio Busquets, a veteran of the team which won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
“I would say to him to enjoy the moment. He is young and lucky and I can tell him what he might see here,” said Spain captain Busquets. “I’m sure he’s very keen and it’s all very easy for him. Now he’s got his chance he will show why he’s here.”
Luis Enrique said that Gavi needed “the same as other young players, patience and confidence”. “The important thing isn’t when he will make his debut but what we will see in a few years when he reaches 50 or 100 caps for the national team,” Luis Enrique added.
Enrique also said criticism of his squad selection for the Nations League Final Four tournament does not concern him, with the former Barcelona boss taking aim at the Spanish media for a lack of knowledge about his decisions. “I don’t read, I don’t listen, I’m not interested in what is said about a squad selection. I selected the 23 players I see best prepared for this Final Four, whether I was right or not, we will see,” said.
“I don’t read because I think I know much more about football than you guys and I have much more information. There isn’t an opinion I could read that could interest me,” he added.
Injuries to strikers Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno have resulted in Enrique naming a squad without a recognised centre-forward after he opted against calling in Sevilla striker Rafa Mir or Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas.
But the Spain coach said he was not concerned by the lack of a conventional forward, adding that he had six or seven players who were attacking in nature. “It is not about one player. We don’t attack with one player like we don’t defend with one,” he said. “We will adapt to a rival, try to create more chances, to keep the ball because that’s vital. For us its an exciting game with nothing to lose and a lot to win,” he added.
Luis Enrique heaped praise on Italy after Spain’s elimination from the Euro and yesterday he continued his charm offensive towards the Nations League hosts, both as a team and a country. “I love this country... For me it’s happiness (to be here), I love the food, the sunny weather, especially down south, the coffee, the ice cream and the language,” said former Roma coach Luis Enrique.
“We are quite alike in that we play from the back, like to have the ball and it’s a huge pleasure to play the European champions. If you’ve gone 37 matches without losing that means you’re doing a lot of things right.”
Meanwhile, Italy coach Roberto Mancini said he wants Italy to keep their world-record unbeaten record going until after next year’s World Cup. Today’s match at the San Siro will be the sternest test of Italy’s 37-match run without defeat since they won Euro 2020 in the summer.
“We’re at 37 matches but we want to carry on for a long time. It depends on us and how we play in the coming matches. We know we’re a good team but we need to keep working in order to keep winning,” Mancini told reporters. “Luis Enrique is right, sooner or later it (a defeat) will happen, it’s a question of mathematics unfortunately. We hope to go on like this until December 2022, but I don’t think that will be very easy.”
Mancini said that Spain were the toughest team Italy faced in the whole tournament, and the 56-year-old has pitched the match and the Final Four as a chance to test themselves against the best with the World Cup little more than a year away.
“It’s an important competition. Obviously it comes after the Euro and therefore the matches might seem lesser events,” he said.
“They’re matches between the four best in Europe and they’re always two important matches to help us improve. We need to improve because we have young players who need to play important matches. We have 14 months to the World Cup, and in those 14 months we need to learn to play even better.”
Captain Giorgio Chiellini said that he was ashamed after Kalidou Koulibaly was targeted with racist abuse by some Fiorentina fans during Napoli’s win in Florence at the weekend.
On Monday the Italian Football Federation said it had opened an investigation into the abuse of Koulibaly, which came after a Juventus fan aimed racist insults at AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan and alleged racist chants by Lazio fans during their defeat at Milan last month.
“I felt ashamed as an Italian and as a Tuscan,” said Chiellini, who was born in Pisa. “It’s unacceptable... In Europe there is a lot of talk of Italy as a racist country which I don’t think it is. But we need to do more to stop presenting such a poor image of ourselves.”



Italy coach Roberto Mancini.



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