Saul is the new Steven Gerrard, Luis Enrique is an inspired choice as new coach, and bring on next summer’s Final Four. They were some of the reactions to Spain’s 6-0 win over Croatia.
The only negative on a night when Croatia had been made to look like minnows was the fact that all this came two months too late for the World Cup finals.
The magnitude of Luis Enrique’s start certainly magnified the chance that was lost in Russia. Saul – the new engine at the heart of Spain’s midfield – did not play a single minute of football at the World Cup.
Diario AS columnist Joaquin Maroto wrote:
‘He is what the English call “box-to-box”. He has that great physical presence in midfield, he covers so much ground, he can arrive in the area to score and he can sweep up at the other end of the pitch. What Gerrard was for Liverpool and England, Saul can be for Spain.’
Another Diario AS scribe Tomas Roncero wrote:
‘Bring on the English on October 15. We have to get another win that will take us to next season’s Final Four.’
It’s not the World Cup but if they can win it – and on home soil too if they can secure the right to host it – then that would give them a huge lift just 12 months after such a poor tournament.
‘That’s the way we like it’ read Diario AS’s front page headline. You could almost hear the ‘Ah ha’ after it. Luis Enrique has re-tuned the piano in record time. No wonder his first home game in charge ended with supporters singing his name.
The man who so nearly took over at Chelsea admitted:
‘I was almost embarrassed by it [the chanting]. I have had it happen to me before at Barcelona but I did not expect it here. I’m grateful but the players are the real protagonists.’
He was at pains to avoid taking too much credit.
‘It would be very easy to say that this is my Spain,’ he said. ‘A team that creates a lot of chances and does not concede. This week has gone perfectly. Let’s see what happens in the future.’
But it was hard not to see his influence. Spain played 1000 passes against Russia in the last-16 but limped out of the tournament crying out for players capable of shooting from long range or arriving from deep to surprise opposition defenders.
Saul is not the only one capable of that. Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio rarely scores ordinary goals and deserves to be credited with both his unstoppable shots last night – even if the second one did go in off the back of dazed Croatia keeper Lovre Kalinic.
Asensio was one of six Real Madrid players to start for Spain – something that has not been seen since 2002. That gave Real Madrid-leaning media even more to shout about but the Barcelona-leaning press were lapping it all up too.
‘Recital’ said El Mundo Deportivo and ‘The future is already here’ roared Diario Sport.
‘We needed to get back to the way we were feeling before the World Cup,’ said Asensio. And so there it was again – the shadow of the fiasco in Russia.
Spanish Federation president Luis Rubiales has his enemies and they will use such a convincing win over World Cup runners-up as more proof that he erred when he sacked Lopetegui for signing with Real Madrid.
In his defence he need only point to Luis Enrique – his appointment, his masterstroke so far.
Beating England at Wembley carries huge kudos in Spain and then putting six past the beaten finalists from Russia makes them feel on top of the world again.