Spain head coach Luis Enrique hailed the impact of newcomer Aymeric Laporte after his controversial allegiance switch ahead of Euro 2020.
Laporte is the only Spain defender to play every game at Euro 2020 and looms as a key figure in Tuesday’s semi-final against Italy in London.
The France-born Manchester City centre-back only made his international debut last month after being granted Spanish nationality in May.
Laporte, who moved to Spain as a 16-year-old and came through the Athletic Bilbao system, had been capped at every under-age level by France and called up twice for the senior team in 2019 but never debuted for Les Bleus.
Luis Enrique and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) pursued Laporte over the past three years, despite the player claiming it was “out of the question”, eventually winning him over ahead of Euro 2020.
“As soon as he was able to play with us he began to do a huge amount for us,” Luis Enrique said during Monday’s news conference. “He’s a top defender, both in the attacking and defensive phases.
“We obviously need our defenders to have composure in order to bring the ball out and pick out that free man in midfield.
“He is strong in the air, he can play with both feet, he is physically strong, he’s quick, he’s strong, as I’ve said, he is good at playing on the front foot, he is good with how he covers.
“He’s a top defender and we are delighted that Aymeric has decided to play for Spain.”
Laporte’s inclusion in Spain’s European Championship squad has arguably vindicated Luis Enrique’s decision to exclude veteran captain Sergio Ramos.
Spain’s road to the semi-finals
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) July 5, 2021
Luis Enrique has a selection headache with Pablo Sarabia unlikely to be fit to face Italy due to a muscle injury, having started in the quarter-final penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland.
RB Leipzig’s Dani Olmo replaced Sarabia at half-time against Switzerland and is a likely preferred option.
“They are all fit except Sarabia,” Luis Enrique said. “Physically they are well and tiredness ends 45 minutes after finishing the quarter final game.”
Luis Enrique’s Spain bossed possession (73 per cent) against Switzerland but relied on penalties to advance to the last four, despite having 28 shots to eight.
Spain have reached the semi-finals of the European Championship for the third time in the past four editions of the competition (failing to do so in 2016). They have gone on to win the Euros on each of the past two occasions they have reached the final four – in 2008 and 2012.
After losing each of their first four matches at Wembley between 1955 and 1968, Spain have only suffered one defeat in their past five games there (W2 D2). However, they were knocked out of the Euros in 1996 at Wembley, losing to hosts England on penalties.
Luis Enrique was wary of Italy’s desire for possession too, in a looming clash of styles.
“I think that’s one of the main questions really,” he said. “We are leaders in terms of possession stats but they are also a side that can use the ball and enjoy their football with the ball.
“I guess that’s the first battle to win. I think that they are very good without the ball as well. They’ve shown that at times during the championship, but they are far more comfortable with the ball.
“Our objectives are clear. We need the ball, we want to have it. If we have to play a different game we’ll adapt but of course we’d prefer to have possession.”
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