Wed, 31 May 2023

MADRID, March 29 (Xinhua) -- "It's a painful defeat and we have to improve," Luis de la Fuente's glorious revolution as the new coach of the Spanish national team lasted just two games after his second ended in a painful 2-0 defeat to Scotland in Glasgow.

While it's fair to say that the Scots have vastly improved under Steve Clarke and clearly had the bit between their teeth from the moment Scott McTominay put them ahead in the seventh minute, Spain was unable to match them and left the pitch in Glasgow after a chastening experience that leaves a lot of question marks over their future.

Hopes were high for the former Under-21 coach, De la Fuente, after Spain kicked off their European Championship qualifying campaign with a 3-0 win over Norway on Saturday night, with Joselu scoring two goals in five minutes after coming on as a late substitute.

But perhaps that result led Spain and their coach into a false sense of security. Until Joselu's 83rd-minute goal, which made it 2-0, Norway was very much in Saturday's game and had enjoyed chances to make it 1-1 - the sort of chances an injured Erling Haaland could well have put in the back of the net to have given the game a very different complexion.

While it's certainly true that De la Fuente's side was more direct than the team that passed around in circles under Luis Enrique before losing 1-0 to Morocco in the last-16 of the World Cup in Qatar, they also gave their rivals more chances to score and Kepa had to be alert in the Spanish goal on several occasions.

Rodri impressed in the middle, as did Mikel Merino and both started again in Scotland. But as Sergio Busquets retired from international football, Spain is now missing a player who is able to slow things down and keep the ball in moments of need.

If the warnings were there and went unheeded against Norway, Scotland set the alarm bells ringing. De la Fuente, perhaps not wanting to overuse players who have almost three-quarters of a season in their legs, made eight changes from the side that beat Norway, with only the central midfielders and Kepa keeping their places.

If he was hoping for fresh legs to help beat their rivals, he was to be disappointed because on the sort of heavy and slightly bumpy pitch that you should expect in Scotland in March, their rivals set out to hassle and harry the Spanish, with Andy Robertson forcing the slip from Pedro Porro to set up McTominay for the opening goal.

Spain never looked settled, never imposed their rhythm, and they were unable to slow the ball down against the highly motivated Scots. Although Joselu was unlucky to hit the bar at 1-1, they rarely looked like breaking down a well-organized defense and midfield.

In short: there wasn't the control of the Luis Enrique era, nor was there the threat they had posed against Norway - the worst of both worlds!

Porro was replaced at halftime by Dani Carvajal, who was then left trailing Kieran Tierney in the run-up to Scotland's second goal, and it should also be pointed out that no midfielder picked up McTominay's runs from deep in either of Scotland's goals.

After the second goal, De la Fuente's men struggled to find a way through, with only second-half substitute Nico Williams looking likely to create a chance.

Iago Aspas, a popular choice to return to the side, struggled to find his place on the pitch and rarely got the ball, Yeremy Pino played in flashes, while Real Madrid's Dani Ceballos threatened to create before getting distracted and drawn into niggling conflicts with the Scots.

Things are unlikely to get easier for De la Fuente, with the Final Four of the UEFA Nations League and a semifinal against Italy next on the menu. He needs to find a style of play, and he needs his players to adapt to it because the Spanish press are not patient with their national team coaches and defeat to Italy will most certainly lead to the sound of knives being sharpened.

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