Luis Enrique insists Spain will not take any chances by trying to engineer a specific result against Japan in an attempt to avoid Brazil in the World Cup quarter-finals.
La Roja face Samurai Blue on Thursday knowing a victory will secure top spot in Group E and set up a last-16 clash with the runners-up from Group F.
But that would also put them on track to play the Selecao in the last eight.
Trying to avoid Brazil has been a topic of much debate during Spain’s media duties in the past few days, and Luis Enrique even confessed to discussing the situation with his team.
But trying to manipulate a result that would see Spain finish second is far too risky for Luis Enrique’s liking.
“Great question, we’ve wondered about this and reflected on it. From a professional point of view, we are only thinking of winning because the four teams can qualify,” he said.
“We want to be first, we cannot and should not speculate. It’s very human to talk about it, we have done it, but it’s useless to choose.
“Imagine, we reach minute 95, we are drawing 0-0, we are winners of the group. But then just before full-time, Costa Rica and Japan score. You’ve speculated the entire game and then in the last 15 seconds you concede. That’s it, you’re out.
“If you’re convinced your team is a good one [you try to win]. We’re here to win seven games.
“Your theory is Brazil [in the quarter-finals]. Let’s play Brazil. We can’t start with these estimations.
@LUISENRIQUE21: “Imagínate que salimos a especular ante Japón y quince segundos antes de terminar el partido quedamos eliminados”.
“Nosotros no hacemos la cuenta de la lechera, no lo interpretamos así. Queremos ganar y pasar primeros de grupo”.#VamosEspaña | #Catar202” pic.twitter.com/K193OenW6a
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SEFutbol) November 30, 2022
“We try to put up a fight – it doesn’t matter who we’re playing in the round of 16 or quarter-finals.
“If we play Brazil in the quarters, well so be it… We must beat Japan – elite sport and speculation don’t compute, or we don’t understand it that way. Being first would mean that we have been better.
“To win a World Cup you have to win against everyone who comes your way. That’s our goal.”
In fact, Luis Enrique went on to suggest he would welcome facing Brazil in the quarter-finals, even if it meant a trickier route to the final for La Roja.
“I hope to play against Brazil. It will mean that we have both reached the quarter-finals,” he continued.
“Brazil is always a clear favourite [for the World Cup], regardless of the year. They have so much talent and quality, both individually and collectively.
“As for everyone else [the favourites], there aren’t big surprises. I always stick to the FIFA rankings, you can see which are the favourites. You look at the top 10, some aren’t here but generally those are the favourites. Brazil, France won [their groups] easily, so there’s no surprises.”
Spain have generally impressed across their first two games with their vibrant and attack-minded style of play, with many considering them early favourites despite possessing one of the youngest squads.
But one of their young talents who is yet to make an appearance is Ansu Fati, who some felt was fortunate to even be named in the squad after only playing bit-part role for Barcelona this season on his return from injury.
Luis Enrique acknowledged Fati was the most uncertain selection in the group, but he stressed he was thrilled with the training level of all of his forwards.
“He was the last player to enter the list. He wasn’t even in the squad in the previous two international breaks. It might be the position where I had the most doubts, regarding bringing Ansu or another player.
“I have to base my decisions on training. We have eight forwards training so well, I am delighted with them, they are flying. It’s a shame they’ve not all had minutes, they all deserve to play and it hurts me, but there’s no space for everyone – some will not play.
“There’s five substitutes allowed, and some players will end the competition without playing a minute. I’m sorry about that, so sorry, but they have to keep training at a top level and I make decisions based on what I see. I am sorry, but also happy with what I see from those eight players.”
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