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Spain ‘contenders’ at Euro 2024 but need ‘time’, says De La Fuente

Spain coach Luis de la Fuente insists his squad has the “raw materials” to make a title push at Euro 2024 where the former champions will be “contenders”.

The 62-year-old talked to AFP ahead of Friday’s 1-0 defeat to Colombia in a friendly international at the London Stadium.

As well as discussing the progress of his team, De la Fuente also lamented the arrests this week in a corruption investigation, the latest in a string of scandals that have ensnared the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

“It is not good for Spanish football that attention is diverted to this other focus,” said De la Fuente.

The coach led Spain to Under-19 and Under-21 European titles and Olympic silver medal in Tokyo before taking over the senior team in 2022 and winning the Nations League in June 2023.

Spain are one of the six top seeds for the 24-team Euros in Germany this summer.

“We are among the contenders who are going to fight for the trophy,” said De la Fuente.

“We have to try to live up to expectations and the expectation is we will compete to win.

“Winning at this level is very difficult because there are other teams that are well prepared, with very good players.”

“We have a very difficult group, with Croatia, Italy and let’s not forget Albania, who topped their group, with a very brilliant coach, with very good players even if they are unknown to the general public,” De la Fuente said.

At the last Euros, Spain beat Croatia in the last 16 but lost to Italy, who took the title, in the semi-finals. 

“Both Croatia and Italy could be fighting for the top, and then you have France, Portugal, England, Germany,” added the coach.

De La Fuente has overhauled the Spain squad. In Friday’s starting lineup only Aymeric Laporte also began Spain’s last game in a major tournament – the round-of-16 loss to Morocco in the World Cup in December 2022.

‘Time’

“We have the raw materials to make a great team. What do we need? Time,” De la Fuente said. 

Against Colombia, De la Fuente gave second-half minutes to 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, 17-year-old Pau Cubarsi and Nico Williams, a 21-year-old, who also came on as a 75th-minute substitute against Morocco in the World Cup only to be replaced in the last minute of extra time by penalty specialist Pablo Sarabia, who then missed his spot kick. On Friday, Yamal replaced the 31-year-old Sarabia after 72 minutes.

“I come from a grassroots background,” said De la Fuente. “Our commitment, to the people we trust in the youth system, is not a pose, it is a conviction. 

“Young people who are coached, with talent, with the preparation, with potential, need opportunities. You don’t have to look at age. And there are young players, with potential, who show every Sunday at their clubs that they are ready to compete at the highest level.”

On Wednesday, Spanish police searched the RFEF headquarters on the outskirts of Madrid, along with disgraced former chief Luis Rubiales’ property in Granada.

Spanish media reported the investigation concerns contracts signed by Rubiales to take the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia, among other matters.

Rubiales stepped down as RFEF president in September after forcibly kissing Women’s World Cup star Jenni Hermoso to provoke worldwide outrage, following Spain’s triumph in the Sydney final in August.

Rubiales is due to face trial over the incident.

“We focus on football, but we are not oblivious to everything that happens, obviously,” said de la Fuente. 

“Our responsibility is also to focus on the work we are doing, because we have a great commitment, a great responsibility, to society, to a whole country, to Spanish football, to restore the prestige of the Spanish federation.”

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