After shedding their early tournament jitters, free-scoring Spain look ready to emulate their serial-winning predecessors, although Euro 2020 quarter-final opponents Switzerland are exactly the type of team they hate to face.
🇪🇸 After his blistering finish in the last round, Álvaro Morata now has 21 goals in 44 Spain games 👊
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) July 1, 2021
Spain won their first knockout tie since lifting Euro 2012 to beat Croatia 5-3 and become the top scoring side in the tournament with 11 goals after netting only once in their first two games.
There was even more excitement among Spanish fans when unfancied Switzerland stunned world champions France after coming back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 and prevail on penalties.
Yet even though the Swiss lack world stars like France’s Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema or Kylian Mbappe, Spain must be prepared for a long evening finding their way through Vladimir Petkovic’s disciplined side on Friday in St Petersburg.
After Spain’s frustrating opening draws with Sweden and Poland, coach Luis Enrique said that facing a side sitting deep and defending was “the hardest thing in football”.
Switzerland hardly have the most resilient defence after conceding eight goals in four games but Petkovic, who has been using a 3-4-1-2 formation, is likely to set his side up to deprive Spain of space in the final third.
‘Humble, hardworking group’
Towering striker Haris Seferovic, who scored two headed goals against France, also poses a serious aerial threat which Spain’s centrebacks Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres have struggled to deal with in the tournament, being out-jumped by Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Croatia’s Mario Pasalic.
Spain keeper Unai Simon insisted his side were no more pleased to face Switzerland than France.
“It’s a quarter-final tie. We don’t depend on our opponents, we depend on ourselves. We play to win this Euros and we don’t mind who we play, to win this tournament we have to face the best teams,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Simon made a remarkable gaffe by letting a back pass from team mate Pedri trickle into his own net against Croatia in what became the own goal from the furthest distance in the tournament’s history.
But he has talked up the team’s character, on display as they outplayed Croatia after falling behind to the own goal and then rallied in extra-time from conceding two late goals.
“The veterans always tell us big tournaments are won by teams, not names, and we are a team. I don’t know how far we’ll go but everyone can see how united we are and whatever happens. If we go behind or ahead, we’re all in it together,” he added.
“I can’t say whether there were egos in previous Spain teams, but this is a very humble, hardworking group that is really excited about winning this European Championship.”
Spain coach Luis Enrique described Switzerland as one of the hardest-working and most cohesive teams at the European Championship despite having few household names and predicted a gruelling match for his side in Friday’s quarter-final.
Switzerland, who will be contesting their first quarter-final in a major tournament since the 1954 World Cup, pulled off the shock of Euro 2020 by knocking out world champions France in the last 16, hauling themselves back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 before winning on penalties.
“They’ll be a difficult for us, they may not have many big-name players known to fans but as a block they are one of the best at the tournament,” Luis Enrique told a news conference on Thursday.
“They’re at our level, without any doubt, because of the way they press and attack. They have a magnificent coach in Vladimir Petkovic and they’ll cause us a lot of problems.”
The teams met twice in the Nations League last year, Spain winning 1-0 in Madrid but only scraping a 1-1 draw in the away game thanks to an 89th-minute equaliser from Gerard Moreno after the Swiss were reduced to 10 men.
“We were superior to them in Madrid even though the scoreline didn’t reflect that and they only created one chance all game. But both games were tough because they press you high in your own half, run very hard and I don’t expect anything different tomorrow,” Luis Enrique said.
“In this tournament they’ve been a reflection of what they are, which is a very hard team to beat who can go all the way, just like us.”
While Spain have enjoyed far greater success than Switzerland and won a hat-trick of international trophies between 2008 and 2012, they also achieved a major milestone in beating Croatia 5-3 after extra-time on Monday to win their first major tournament knockout game since the Euro 2012 final.
Like Switzerland, Spain were forced into extra-time in their last fixture but the coach was not worried about his players feeling tired.
“The physical impact won’t affect us, we have great fitness coaches and the data we have seen is incredible,” he said.
“The mental factor is just as important and if you are convinced about what you’re doing and feel good in the head, you can fly out on the pitch. I think we’re in top shape physically.”
🇨🇭🆚🇪🇸 Switzerland’s first ever EURO quarter-final pits them against three-time winners Spain
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) July 2, 2021