Soccer-Talented reserves keep Spanish train rolling

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group B - Albania v Spain - Dusseldorf Arena, Dusseldorf, Germany - June 24, 2024 Spain players line up during the national anthems before the match REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Albania coach Sylvinho suggested that Spain’s second team could win the Euros, and though they will probably face stiffer challenges on the training field this week, the stand-ins duly showcased the squad’s depth on Monday.

Their 1-0 win over Albania that made it three out of three with five goals scored and none conceded and sent them into the knockout stage on a high was a combination of controlled play, almost in second gear, followed by some resolute defending in some testing late exchanges.

With Spain already in top spot, coach Luis De la Fuente took full advantage by making 10 changes, and the new boys slotted effortlessly into the spotlight – at least for the first hour of a match that left Albania bottom and eliminated.

Their pastel lemon kit might have looked unfamiliar but the stylish playing with purpose was just what Luis De la Fuente has been developing with his "first team" as Spain continue to remodel themselves from the country that eventually passed themselves to death on the crumbling altar of Tiki Taka.

Their 13th-minute goal was a geometric beauty as Aymeric Laporte drilled a crossfield pass to Dani Olmo, who slipped a perfectly weighted through ball that allowed Ferran Torres to sweep it home first-time without breaking stride.

It was his 20th goal in 44 internationals and his fifth in major tournaments – not bad for a reserve forward.

The lively Olmo continued to impress and must be in the reckoning for a start in the last 16, while the whole team worked tirelessly to swamp Albania at source whenever they tried to build any sort of attack.

However, De la Fuente will not be so impressed at how his side lost focus in the second half, particularly when switching off at a free kick and allowing an unmarked Armando Broja to force David Raya into a smart save.

Albania found new energy in the final 20 minutes, and Spain’s air of controlled calm evaporated somewhat as, remarkably, they ended up allowing more shots on target (four) than they managed themselves (three).

Overall, however, it was a job very well done, on and off the pitch, as the squad players got game time and some key men got rest – and avoided any risk of suspension.

"We wanted to win today, above all," said De la Fuente. "There is only one player left who hasn't played - (goalkeeper) Alejandro Remiro. I'm really happy that young players like Fermin Lopez got this experience and got to live through a game with this intensity.

"We have room to improve - it got a bit out of hand in the second half - but we have a wonderful generation of players who want to improve.

"The more chances I have to choose different footballers, if every one is really good, that's fantastic for the national team."

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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