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Luis Enrique’s side are in good shape right now and they can beat their neighbors on home soil.
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We are still around six months away from the start of the World Cup, but the upcoming tournament will color every international match until then. Spain’s meeting with Portugal on Thursday is part of the Nations League, a different competition entirely. But both teams will be using fixtures like this as preparation for Qatar, where they will be among the main contenders to win the trophy. As things stand Spain are the fourth-favorites, while Portugal sit eighth in the betting charts.
Luis Enrique’s side had a slow start to Euro 2020, which was held in 2021 after a one-year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It took Spain until their final group game to make sure of a place in the knockout stage, with their pretty approach play often undermined by wastefulness in front of goal. They grew stronger as the tournament wore on, though, and in their semi-final with Italy, Spain were arguably the better team.
There is plenty for Luis Enrique to build on. This generation is not as gifted as the one which saw the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Gerard Pique, Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos win two European Championships and the World Cup between 2008 and 2012, but it contains plenty of talent nonetheless.
There is considerable excitement about Pedri, Barcelona’s teenage sensation, while further youthful exuberance is provided by Gavi and Ansu Fati, his team-mates for both club and country.
Luis Enrique could also be an advantage. Many international managers are either at the start or the end of their careers; Spain’s boss is arguably in the peak of his. Luis Enrique would probably get a top-level job in the club game if he became unemployed tomorrow. He won the Champions League with Barcelona in 2015 and will hope to add the World Cup to his honors list at the end of this year.
After finishing second to Serbia in their World Cup qualification group, Portugal had to compete in the play-offs in March. They saw off Turkey with a minimum of fuss in the semi-finals to set up a final which was expected to be against Italy. However, the European champions were stunned in the last four by North Macedonia, who proved to be no match for Portugal a few days later. In the end, Fernando Santos’ side qualified for the World Cup pretty comfortably.
There are still doubts over the manager that will lead Portugal in Qatar, however. Some will argue that is unfair. After all, Santos won Portugal’s first ever major trophy by guiding them to glory at Euro 2016. He followed that up with success in the inaugural edition of the Nations League, when Portugal beat the Netherlands in the final. Purely in terms of trophies, Santos is the most successful manager his country has ever had.
Yet the worry for Portuguese soccer fans is that Santos’ defense-first style does not suit the players at his disposal. In recent times Portugal have been less than the sum of their parts, with the likes of Diogo Jota, Bernardo Silva and Joao Felix unable to replicate their club performances on the international stage. Games like this one, against a fellow heavyweight side, will show whether or not Santos has made strides in that regard.
Given their manager’s tendency towards caution, we could see Portugal adopt a contain-and-counter approach on Thursday. Santos will know that Spain sometimes struggle to break down deep, well-organized defensive blocks, and he will instruct his side to try and frustrate their hosts by remaining diligent and disciplined without the ball.
A game plan based on breaking forward at speed might not suit Cristiano Ronaldo, although it will be difficult for Portugal to leave him out if the Manchester United marksman makes it clear that he is available and ready to play.
Under 2.5 goals is a wager we considered for this match, but on balance we believe a Spain win is the best betting choice as these two teams begin their Nations League campaigns. La Roja have not lost on home soil since 2018, and they are likely to dominate proceedings at the Estadio Benito Villamarin.
It is true that Spain struggle to create and convert chances at times, but Luis Enrique’s team possess enough quality in forward areas to get the job done. Go for a Spain victory over Portugal.
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|Spain vs Portugal Information|
|Teams||Spain vs Portugal|
|Location||Estadio Benito Villamarin, Sevilla, Spain|
|Time||Thursday, 2 June 2022, 2.45 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Fox Sports 1, fuboTV|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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