With World Champions France being stunned by Switzerland in the round of 16, where Vladimir Petković’s men won on penalties after a 3-3 stalemate, Euro 2020 needed a new favorite, and that baton was briefly passed on to Spain — who did, of course, win the European Championships back-to-back in 2008 and 2012.
Many punters struggled to get their head around the fact that the bookmakers made Spain the favourites to win the tournament for a fourth time, with most claiming that Italy, who Luis Enrique’s men could face in the semi-finals, have thus far looked like a much better side.
In recent years, Spain haven’t gone about their business quietly heading into major tournaments, like when they sacked Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the 2018 World Cup three years ago, and the build-up to this tournament was equally marred.
Enrique, a former head coach of Barcelona, left veteran defender Sergio Ramos at home, whilst not naming a single Real Madrid player in his 24-man squad. The Spanish fans and pundits alike were left seething. The fact that managers had the chance to bring 26 players, yet someone as influential as Ramos was left at home with space to spare, had many racking their brains.
Then there was Sergio Busquets’ positive covid result, which had the Spanish fearing that there would be an outbreak in camp that could potentially cause major issues ahead of the tournament. Luckily, everyone else returned negative tests, but it did mean a period, just days before their opening match, where the squad were unable to train together.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Spain looked lacklustre in their opening two games against Sweden and Poland, which both ended in draws, and there were fears that they were heading for yet another early exit from a major international tournament.
However, they put the talk of Seville’s dreadful pitch and the boos and whistles from the home crowd behind them in their final group game against Slovakia, ripped off their shackles, and played exactly how you’d expect a Spanish side to play.
They tore Slovakia apart, scoring five times, and whilst it wasn’t enough for them to top the group — that honour went to Sweden — it was progress, and the progress that was needed from a rather tame side.
In their last 16 encounter against Croatia at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, they looked rocky again. Pedri’s back-pass bobbled over the foot of goalkeeper Unai Simon to gift Croatia the lead, and whilst goals from Pablo Sarabia, César Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres made it 3-1 in Spain’s favour, they let Zlatko Dalić’s men back into the game.
Mislav Oršić and Mario Pašalić both scored in the last five minutes to force the game into extra-time. But Spain once again took the game by the scruff of the neck with Álvaro Morata, who was a target of the boo boys earlier in the competition, and Mikel Oyarzabal netting to secure a 5-3 victory and Spain’s place in the quarter-finals.
Up next is of course the Swiss in Russia on Friday, and whilst Enrique’s men are the favorites in the Switzerland v Spain betting odds, it will not be a walk in the park for the three-time champions, especially with that victory over France spurring Switzerland on.
With every passing victory of a major international tournament, particularly in the knockout stages, belief begins to grow within camps, and there’s no doubt that will be the case in Spain’s bubble.
However, given what we have seen from the Spanish thus far, it’s hard to get your head around how they are they are the second favorites in the Euro 2020 winner odds.
Should they get past the Swiss, then the winner of Italy vs Belgium awaits them in the semi-final, and should they progress, then the likelihood is that they face favorites England in the Wembley showpiece.
For us, Spain just hasn’t shown the star qualities that will help them beat the top sides, and whilst they have a very good chance of reaching the semi-finals, there’s a great chance that that will be as far as Enrique and co get.