Spain will be the pain

Spain’s Nico Williams, who was named man of the match, tussling for the ball with Italy’s Giovanni Di Lorenzo. — AFP/Reuters

GELSENKIRCHEN: Spain coach Luis de la Fuente insisted his side are as good as any at Euro 2024 after they produced an outstanding performance to beat reigning champions Italy 1-0 on Thursday and qualify for the last 16.

“I am delighted and proud not just with the result against a great side, the reigning European champions, but with the way in which we got it, but this is a very difficult competition,” De la Fuente told reporters after Riccardo Calafiori’s own goal decided the Group B match in Gelsenkirchen.

“Opponents get to know you as you go along and so it is very hard to win a competition like this, but I think there is no team better than us and we just need to keep working and playing as we have been.”

Spain dominated the match at the Arena AufSchalke and could easily have won by a greater margin, with Nico Williams hitting the bar in the second half.

The result means the three-time European champions have six points out of a possible six and are already certain to finish on top of Group B, before their last match against Albania.

“Football is physical but it is also about technique and tactics. We felt superior in every aspect, but we can still improve a lot, although we will keep our feet on the ground because every match is really difficult,” De la Fuente said of his team’s display.

“I think it was undoubtedly the best game of the 17 of which I have taken charge, the most complete,” said the 62-year-old, who replaced Luis Enrique in the dugout after Spain went out of the 2022 World Cup in the last 16 to Morocco.

“Obviously I am very happy but we have not done anything yet. We need to remain prudent. We are not going to lose our heads because of all the praise,” he said, before suggesting that he will make changes for the game against Albania in Duesseldorf on Monday.

Spain will then play a last-16 tie on June 30 in Cologne against a third-placed finisher from the group stage.

“The last game does give us the chance to freshen up the team and give an opportunity to some of the other great players we have on the bench,” De la Fuente said of the group finale. — AFP

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