Spain coach urges to keep ‘feet on ground’ after flawless group stage

DÜSSELDORF, Germany — Luis de la Fuente lauded his Spain side for sealing a third successive win and clean sheet at Euro 2024 by beating Albania 1-0 at the Arena Düsseldorf on Monday.

It is the first time Spain have ever won all three group games without conceding at a major tournament, with Ferran Torres‘ first half strike sealing the points against Albania, who exit the competition.

Spain also beat Croatia and Italy to top Group B and establish themselves as one of the favourites to go all the way in Germany in this summer.

“Dreaming is free and we’re the first to dream, but while keeping our feet on the ground,” Spain coach De la Fuente said in a post-game news conference.

“Every game is tough and it has a lot of merit what we did today and what we have done in the tournament — winning three games with clean sheets, which is the first ever time in a major tournament [for Spain].”

However, in a warning to the rest of the competition, De la Fuente said this Spain side can still improve as they wait to find out who they will face in the last 16 in Cologne on Sunday.

“We have had a very good group phase,” he added. “The performances against Croatia and Italy were at a very high level. The attacking statistics — I don’t know how many chances we created against Italy — but also the defensive statistics have been good as well.

“But, of course, we can still improve. We don’t conform. We have a wonderful generation of players who want to improve and are so ambitious.

“We have a phrase we say in the dressing room after every game: first, we thank everyone for their work, but then we say everything can be improved upon tomorrow. I can improve — I’m the first who can improve — and that applies to all the players and the technical staff.”

With qualification to the next round guaranteed before the game, De la Fuente made 10 changes to the starting lineup against Albania, with third choice goalkeeper Álex Remiro the only player in the 26-man squad who has still not been involved.

Of those who came into the side, Barcelona forward Torres caught the eye, scoring the only goal of the game, his 20th for Spain, and earning UEFA’s Player of the Match award.

“That’s the key to this team,” Torres said of Spain’s squad depth in a news conference. “We can all consider ourselves starters and are ready when needed. That’s the key.

“Anyone can resolve the matches. Players coming off the bench are very important as well, because lots of goals have been scored at the end of games. I want to make things difficult for the coach.”

Albania, meanwhile, exit the competition after picking up just one point from their three matches, a 2-2 draw with Croatia, although with their heads held high after competing well in one of the most fearsome groups.

As was the case in their opening game against Italy, a 2-1 defeat, they only lost to Spain by the odd goal and they came close to equalising through both Kristjan Asllani and Armando Broja. “I’m proud of my players and for the country,” coach Sylvinho said in a news conference. “It’s only our second time in this competition and we have managed to compete against three great national teams.

“People said we would concede three to Italy, four to Croatia and five against Spain, but the players believed in the work and they made huge sacrifices. They didn’t stop running.”

The former Brazil international said he had hardly slept during six months of planning for the tournament, adding that he would not have swapped the experience of facing some of Europe’s top nations for an easier group. “It was a difficult draw but you have to get used to playing in competitions of this level,” he explained. “I lost many hours of sleep thinking about this tournament — how to stop these three teams — but we competed at a high level and the country will be proud.

“We need to get used to playing in tournaments like this. We could have conceded four or five goals against all these teams, but we didn’t and I’m proud of that. I am tired, it’s been almost six months of little to no sleep, but I am proud of the country I represent.

“I would not change [the group]. The experience for us and the whole country has been brilliant. My players left everything on the pitch and they will remember this for the rest of their lives.

“They will think about this the next time they go on the pitch. No one was humiliated. We were playing at the top level. They were perfect for me as a coach. This was pure gold.”