Spain doubted again after consecutive Nations League losses

(AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

By TALES AZZONI

AP Sports Writer

MADRID (AP) The hype surrounding Luis Enrique and his Spain team didn't last very long.

Disappointing performances in the UEFA Nations League have left "La Roja" under scrutiny after what had been a promising start under the new coach.

Luis Enrique was hired to revamp the national team following its early World Cup elimination. He led Spain to impressive victories, including a 2-1 victory over England at Wembley Stadium, a 6-0 win against World Cup-finalist Croatia and a 4-1 victory over Wales in a friendly in Cardiff.

Both in attack and defense, the team was playing well again. And the solid performances got fans excited about the team's future.

But the great start was followed by two straight losses: 3-2 to England in Spain's first home defeat in 15 years, and 3-2 at Croatia on Thursday after conceding in stoppage time. The results left Spain having to hope for a draw between England and Croatia at Wembley on Sunday to be able to advance to the final four of Europe's newest competition.

"The results are what they are," Luis Enrique said. "The group was very difficult, with two of the best national teams in the world. We were less favorites but the first two matches went really well. I'm happy with how we played even though there are things to improve."

Luis Enrique implemented some promising changes in his first two matches in charge, making Spain press high and play a more aggressive style. The "tiki-taka" passing game was gone, and the focus turned to a more vertical approach in attack.

But the high defensive line that worked well in the first two games, allowing the team to play aggressively, made Spain become more vulnerable on defense. The team conceded six goals in its last two matches after outscoring opponents 12-2 in the first matches under Luis Enrique.

The former Barcelona coach said this inconsistency was expected considering Spain is still in the process of replacing the golden generation which helped Spain win two European Championships and a World Cup.

"We already knew the situation with a change in generation and we are trying to create a team," Luis Enrique said. "There are young players who need confidence and there is a lot of room for improvement."

Luis Enrique is not able to count on the likes of Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Gerard Pique, who retired from the national team after the World Cup. He has been gradually experimenting with youngsters.

He will have a chance to get Spain back on track in a friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday in Las Palmas, the team's final match of the year. The hosts will be without defender Sergio Ramos, who will be rested because of a muscle ailment.

Luis Enrique said he is already planning on getting the team ready for Euro 2020 qualifying, which begins next year.

"I'm optimistic," Luis Enrique said. "I'd love to see England and Croatia draw so we could play in the final four (of the Nations League), but our goal is the European Championship and to qualify for the tournament with a group of young players."

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Updated November 16, 2018

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