Having just wrapped up a two-match training camp in which they suffered a late Belgian equaliser and a fine solo goal from Christen Press, Spain are looking far more towards performances than results. Utilising each FIFA window between now and the start of June when they’ll kick off their second World Cup campaign, La Roja are keen to test themselves in every way.
“We’re picking the teams we need to face to make sure we get to the World Cup in the best conditions we can. Belgium is a good team, the USA is the number one in the world and we knew that regardless of whether we won, tied or lost today, the team would grow in many areas. And that’s been the case, so now we can go on to analyse stuff, watch the videos, correct some things and be much better in our next training camp.”
A team well known for taking things one match at a time, focusing on the team and 90 minutes in front of them rather than who and what could be around the corner. Sampedro notes that whilst the squad is aware that time is ticking down to their meeting with South Africa in Le Havre, no one is looking beyond the present with the vital steps the team needs to take before the summer.
“We know the World Cup is nearly here, because we only have four months left to prepare for it. But I think we should focus on who we’re facing each month, because if we’re already thinking about what’s coming in June, we’re not working on what we need to be working on now. So now it’s time for us to go back and do our best with our teams, to ensure we are in the best physical conditions possible for our next training camp.”
She continued, “From there on, since we have such little time, I think our focus has to be to get the most out of each training camp so that we can improve everything we want to improve daily.”
Possession without purpose
A team known for possessing the ball and moving it about with ease – although Jorge Vilda’s team having quite mastered tiki-taka – too often, Spain’s possession has been for naught. However with a style that suits the team, La Roja are in no hurry to change a familiar style.
“Yes, we’re on it. We know we’re a team that are good at keeping the ball. And we have to boost all the good things we have to be much better still in that sense, because I think it’s really important for us to have possession, because it allows us to rest a lot from the other team’s attack.”
However, in their last three matches at Euro 2017, Spain boasted 78% (vs England), 74% (vs Scotland) and 71% (vs Austria) possession but failed to score a single goal in those 300 minutes. Whilst the problem of aimless possession isn’t a new one, it’s certainly something the team are fully aware of and have been working to improve.
“But it is true that that possession needs to be transformed into some more depth, which is what we’re currently working on. I mean, instead of having that possession in the midfield, if we have it in the final third, we’re much closer to goal and as soon as we see those spaces, we need to take advantage of them. We’re working on this, because our goal going into the World Cup is to ensure that possession is much more effective than it is right now.”
Not one of the four debutants due to take part in the World Cup for the first time this year, the Spanish squad is barely recognisable from the team that made their bow in Canada. Following their unfortunate but ultimately, dismal showing in 2015 the team has changed much for the better with coach Ignacio Quereda having been replaced by Vilda soon after the tournament. Vilda’s reign has seen the national side reach an all-time high FIFA ranking of 12 as the coach has been keen to bring more and more young players into the side, hammering out a clear identity and methodical approach.
The team heading into France on the firmest footing possible having won all eight of their qualification matches, scoring 25 goals and conceding just two along the way.
“Four years is a long time and the truth is we’re very happy if we look at how far we’ve come since Canada. In fact, we’re a much better team now and that shows, because in Canada we went didn’t have a perfect qualification stage as we have had this year, when we’ve actually won all our games and have done a very good job during this phase.”
Not quite talked about as favourites from UEFA, many across the continent will see Spain as real challengers this summer, Sampedro clear that the team needs to take to the pitch with their heads held high, shoulders not sagging under the weight of expectation.
“Now this is what’s expected from us, which means that we’ve taken a step forward, that we’re a much bigger and much better team now. And that is something we need to take advantage of, but without having it as an added pressure, but as something positive that will help us go into the World Cup with the right mindset.”