Spain vs Norway preview: La Roja on quest for European redemption
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Spain vs Norway preview: La Roja on quest for European redemption

Having bowed out at the Round of 16 at the World Cup last year, Spain now turn to the upcoming European Championships as they look for a return to glory.

Jake Horwood

The 2018 World Cup was an anticlimax considering the standards upheld by Spain. Julen Lopetegui was sacked just two days before the start of the competition and his replacement, Fernando Hierro, awkwardly edged through the group stages before suffering elimination by the hosts, Russia, in the Last 16.

However, under current coach Luis Enrique, Spain now have their sights set on repeating the triumphs they enjoyed roughly a decade ago: La Roja won two European Championships and a World Cup between 2008 and 2012 in a period of global domination, and kickstart their qualification campaign for Euro 2020 against Norway.

Spain last featured back in November with a narrow 1-0 victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina. The visitors frustrated their hosts at the Estadio de Gran Canaria, but 21-year old Celta Vigo attacker Brais Mendez scored on his debut for the national side with just 11 minutes to play. Mendez was not included in the squad recently named by Enrique.

La Roja participated in the inaugural UEFA Nations League but failed to qualify for the semi-finals as England topped their group. Crucial to that result was a spellbinding 3-2 victory for the Three Lions at the Estadio Benito VillamarínRaheem Sterling notched a brace and Marcus Rashford also scored to put Gareth Southgate's men three goals up at half-time. Goals from Paco Alcácer and Sergio Ramos got the home side back in the running, but Spain were unable to muster that elusive equaliser.

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As for Norway, their last result was a 2-0 victory over Cyprus in which Ola Kamara scored both to settle the scores. The result confirmed that they would finish top of Group C3 in the Nations League, meaning Norway earned promotion to the second tier of the competition next time around.

Previous meetings

While these two sides have met six times over the years, their last encounters came in 2003 during qualifying for the European Championships of the following year in which Greece won their first ever major honour. Spain won the games 2-1 and 3-0 respectively, though they would eventually crash out of the competition at the group stage.

Overall, Spain have triumphed in four out of six meetings with Norway — the latter's only victory came in Euro 2000, when Steffen Iversen's header sunk a decorated side featuring the likes of Pep Guardiola and Raúl.

View from the dugout

While Enrique claims to crave consistency in his national setup, the former Barcelona manager admits he needs time to experiment with the players at his disposal in order to kindle a winning formula similar to that which Vicente del Bosque utilised to devastate world football between 2008 and 2012.

"I am not in a rush," the 48-year old said. "I would like to have already a line-up and the same 23 players every time but I think this is a long process. It's not just a week's work.

"We are starting official matches and we don't have any more friendlies to see players, so we have to start winning and trying to get to the same level at this qualification; but I will keep trying with new players."

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Spain have been criticised for lacking the widespread calibre of player that they enjoyed under del Bosque, but their current coach feels it is unfair to consider how his side shape up to what many consider to have been the golden generation of Spanish football.

"If we compare this national team with the one who won the World Cup and two Euros, we would lose, for sure. But we don't need to compare with our past — we need to compare with our rivals and we are at the same position as we were when I arrived: ninth in the rankings.

"The last title was won three championships ago. Those players have turned years and some are retired. Now we are looking for another winning block. I can talk about my project and this is the first big qualifying phase. Conquering titles is not easy."

Team news

Enrique caused surprise in his squad selection by granting first call-ups to Sergi Gomez, Sergio Canales and Jaime Mata, while Thiago and Isco failed to make the cut. Real Madrid regulars Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernández are also absent due to injury.

So far, Spain have only been forced into one alteration from the initial squad for this round of qualifiers; Fabián Ruiz fell ill and was forced to withdraw, making way for Atletico Madrid's Saúl Ñiguez.

As for Norway, Ørjan Nyland, Birger Meling and Sander Berge are all sidelined, leaving manager Lars Lagerbäck with a somewhat straightforward team selection.

Predicted XIs

Spain — De Gea; Roberto, Ramos, Martínez, Gayá; Parejo, Busquets, Saúl; Rodrigo, Morata, Muniain.

Norway — Jarstein; Elabdellaoui, Rosted, Nordtveit, Aleesami; Johansen, Selnæs, Henriksen, Elyounoussi; King, Kamara.