Spain’s second XI prove they’re better than most first teams but one key flaw remains

Spain’s second XI prove they’re better than most first teams but one key flaw remains

If this was very much the night’s second match, those watching Italy-Croatia may have missed the chance to see the fifth-best team at Euro 2024. That just happens to be Spain’s second team, who kept playing with a fluidity beyond virtually everyone else at the tournament.

They had many of the same qualities as the first team, if also the same flaws in the finishing. That didn’t matter here, as they beat Albania 1-0 to make it a perfect three wins from three in the group stage. They will now surely look to become the first European champions to win all their games, something no one has yet done, even in the 16-team era. That is what Spain should be aiming for.

This isn’t to diminish Albania, who did eventually up their game at the end as they knew they had a chance to stay in this competition but they couldn’t get close enough. They sank to their knees in disappointment at the end, but there was probably considerable exhaustion from chasing passes in that, too.

Albania’s national event was reduced to a training game, where Spain’s wider squad put forward their cases for places later on. They have suddenly gone from having the most convincing first XI to also having the strongest squad.

This is no guarantee of victory, of course, especially given Spain’s recent history. They have flattered to deceive a lot since 2012 and the last World Cup was the ultimate example of that.

But this is obviously how you would want to start any tournament. The perfect record still brought the chance to rest players.

Ferran Torres stepped up to deliver victory for Spain (AP)

You could see them suddenly stumbling in the quarter-finals, sure, but you could also see them going onto convincingly becoming champions again.

You can witness some of that past within that, too. If this is to be a summer where Spain roll back the years, there were more moments to recall Euro 2008. Even the decision to play the second XI mirrored what they did against Greece in Austria 16 years ago.

In Dusseldorf on Monday, we saw a move that must have been played over and over through that summer and of course the next four years after. Just like Andres Iniesta to David Villa, Dani Olmo slid the cleanest of passes between defenders and into the path of Ferran Torres. The forward then hit a low finish in off the post. It was all angles, exactly as it was in the glory era.

This isn’t to suggest these two are of the class of Iniesta and Villa, but it is striking how the ideology persists. Much has already been made of young superstars Nico Williams and Yamine Lamal helping evolve that ideology, and they weren’t even needed to start here.

The initial ball from Aymeric Laporte wasn’t bad, either.

Spain were largely on cruise control to beat Albania (AFP via Getty Images)

Within all of that, though, there is one familiar flaw with Spain. They just don’t score enough. Put bluntly, they should have far more than the mere five they have scored in this tournament. They actually got the most in the game where they were the least commanding. The 3-0 victory over Croatia was the only match that was probably close to 50-50 in terms of general play.

This isn’t quite the recent Spanish problem of having so much possession they can get confused over when to pass and when to shoot. There was still a throwback there when substitute Lamal came on and destroyed the Albanian defence only to then try to pass to Alvaro Morata when he himself had the goal at his mercy, but that was more an issue of inexperience rather than the usual ideological conditioning with Spain.

They now create so many big chances. The circumstances also ensured there was a degree of relaxation about them here, that brought a kind of free expressiveness. Early in the first half, Torres turned a lovely reverse ball in for Olmo, which led to the midfielder opting to backheel it to Joselu rather than just finish.

Spain’s second XI were hugely impressive but one key flaw still remains (AFP via Getty Images)

The wider issue might yet have some consequences for Spain. The number of chances they missed against Italy will still be on their minds, especially as the Azzurri are the opponents they have something of a complex about. Could it be that Italy come back to knock out Spain at some point?

This was too much for Albania, meanwhile. They did eventually up it from constantly chasing Spanish passes. It must have been so tantalisingly frustrating that the Albanians were notionally a game from making history, but it seemed that they were always one Spanish pass behind when trying to win the ball.

Kristjan Asllani had their best opportunity until stoppage time, and it was telling that that was a brilliant shot from distance. David Raya was equal to it, doing his part by pounding it away. He then caught a half-chance in the final few moments.

The question from this game is how many would be equal to Spain’s second side? Probably not many and they’re certainly another team to watch.