Spain catalyst Rodri a ‘computer’ that makes team work

COLOGNE, Germany — Spain coach Luis de la Fuente lauded the role of Rodri as his side came from behind to beat Georgia 4-1 and set up a mouthwatering Euro 2024 quarterfinal against hosts Germany in Stuttgart on Friday.

Manchester City‘s Rodri scored the equaliser after a Robin Le Normand own goal had given Georgia, the lowest ranked team at the competition, a surprise lead in the first half.

Rodri, named Player of the Match by UEFA, was then influential as Spain ticked through the gears, with Fabián Ruiz, Nico Williams and Dani Olmo all on target as they extended the tournament’s only 100% winning record to four matches.

“It’s normal that after the goal, an own goal, there were some nervous minutes,” De la Fuente said in a news confernece. “But we managed to wrestle control back and the players read the game brilliantly. We were calm at half-time, there was no anxiety and the players knew what was needed.

“And then we have Rodri, who is a computer who makes everyone else play. He managed all the emotions and all the moments perfectly, which is a big help for everyone.”

Spain recovered from the setback of going behind to register 35 shots on goal in the end, their highest tally at a major tournament on record since 1980, with De la Fuente feeling they should have won by a much bigger margin.

“The result didn’t reflect the game because we could have won 8-1 or 9-1,” he added. “But it’s always hard at this stage of the tournament and you have to suffer when you don’t take your chances.”

Next up for Spain is Germany, although De la Fuente remains confident that there is no better side than La Roja at the Euros.

“With all respect to all the other national teams, we have the best team and the best players,” the Spain coach said. “Does that mean we’re going to win it? No, but we will fight for it.

“We are up against a very powerful team in Germany. All teams have defects, though. No team is perfect. We have our tools and strengths and our weaknesses that we will try to minimise.

“Germany are a great team, with great individuals, some of the best in the world. They are well organised and disciplined. We just have to keep working like we have been, focus on our strengths and keep improving.”

Rodri said Spain will have no fear going into the tie with the hosts, though.

“Germany will be strong at home, but we aren’t afraid,” the Man City star said. “We must produce a good performance, but we are not here to play well or leave a good image, we are here to win with everything we have — that is the mentality of this team.”

As well as Rodri, there were once again stand out performances from wide players Williams and Lamine Yamal. Williams scored and assisted in the win, while Yamal, who became the youngest player to ever feature in the knockout rounds at 16 years and 353 days old, also set up one of the goals.

The Barça youngster becomes the first European teenager to assist two or more goals in a major tournament since Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2004, but De la Fuente still sees room for improvement.

“He played really well, but I think he can do much better,” the Spain coach said. “He likes to take risks, but maybe there are moments when a bit more calm is needed.

“But he is 16 and he is still learning. Today is great for that and for what is to come in the immediate future, because there are going to be similar moments and periods coming up.”

Georgia coach Willy Sagnol said he was “so proud and happy” to have reached the knockout stages at the nation’s first ever appearance at a major tournament but was left wondering what might have been if Spain’s first goal was disallowed.

The Frenchman felt Álvaro Morata was obstructing goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili‘s view for Rodri’s equaliser and questioned whether VAR should be used if it is not used consistently.

“It was clearly offside,” he said in a news conference. “If [Netherlands defender] Denzel Dumfries is offside [against France] then that was 10 times more offside today. It is always the same problem.

“VAR is a fantastic evolution, but we don’t use it properly. It’s always the same, a decision taken by the same kind of people, who have, I will say, maybe 10 screens … and from one match to another they don’t give the same decisions.

“Players and staff don’t understand anymore. VAR is a great thing, but maybe [we should] wait until we know how to use it properly.”

However, he accepted Spain were the better side overall and said the scale of Georgia’s achievement this summer will sink in when the dust settles.

“We are not disappointed but feel sad because we lost,” he added. “I am sure in some days we will realise what we have done and happiness will come back quickly.”