The Spanish backlash against the country’s shock World Cup last-16 exit has begun with the nation’s media questioning the future of head coach Luis Enrique, following the penalty shootout defeat against Morocco.
Spain dominated their North African opponents on Tuesday night but were unable to find a crucial breakthrough and were left ruing their wastefulness when they missed all three of their penalties to hand Morocco a place in the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
After thrashing Costa Rica 7-0 in their opening match in Qatar, Luis Enrique’s side had put down an early marker as a team to look out for, but their campaign started to splutter through the remainder of the group stage, with a 1-1 draw against Germany and 2-1 defeat by Japan costing them momentum ahead of the group stage.
However, few expected the team ranked seventh in the world would come unstuck against a Moroccan side who sit 15 places below them in Fifa’s rankings. But dreadful penalties from Pablo Sarabia - brought on especially for the shootout - Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets set the stage for Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi to send his side through to the last-eight with the cheekiest of Paneka’s.
The crushing exit was panned back home in Spain by the media - here is a selection of the best reactions.
Madrid-based newspaper Marca labelled the defeat a “fiasco” for the national team and described Luis Enrique’s worth as “going from much to nothing” in the space of one shootout, branding the penalties “disastrous”.
Marca reports that Luis Enrique’s future as national team coach is now “up in the air” with big questions over whether he leads them to Euro 2024 - a question he refused to answer following the defeat.
Barcelona daily Sport also slammed the “disastrous” shootout performance, though did accept that Spain had “clearly dominated” the match and “tried everything but lacked the goal to go through to the quarter-finals”.
Mundo Deportivo went with the bold, punchy and simplistic headline of “KO World Cup”, and hailed Hakimi for his ‘Panenka’ penalty that sent Luis Enrique’s side back home two weeks earlier than they had planned.
Branding the team as “finished”, AS report on their front page that the Spanish Football Federation has grave doubts over Luis Enrique’s future as manager, with a picture of the crestfallen former Barcelona manager in the moments after the defeat.
‘A lot of possession for nothing’
The humbling defeat also made the front pages of the national papers, where there was little trace of sympathy for the Spanish team. El Pais displayed a crestfallen Luis Enrique with his players disconsolate behind him, and the headline “Spain succumbs with a lot of possession for nothing”.
A damning account of the match appears on the front of El Mundo, with Luis Enrique consoling captain Sergio Busquets above the headline “They do not give for more.” The paper adds that Morocco’s “rudimentary football” had done for Luis Enrique’s possession-based game, and blasted the team for being “unable to score, even on penalties”.
La Vanguardia branded the team “The most impotent Spain returns home” with an image of the victorious Moroccan side sprinting towards Hakimi after his decisive penalty, while ABC led their front page with the headline: “No fight, no ideas, no goal.”
Will Luis Enrique be sacked?
Writing for Marca, Spanish football writer Diego Pico questioned how Luis Enrique can remain in charge after such a deflating end to a second consecutive last-16 World Cup exit for Spain.
“The first and most important is whether Luis Enrique should continue on the bench of the national team,” askes Pico. “After two good final phases in the European Championship and in the Nations League, the World Cup has been a major downturn. He has created this group, with this style, but the result has not arrived and the feeling of having failed is evident.
Another of the debates that arise after Spain's goodbye to Qatar is that of style. With Luis Enrique it has not been negotiable. Touch, possession and absolute control of the ball. But in the World Cup the style has broken down and the question is whether to give it a thought.”
As for potential replacements, Pico suggested that a four-horse race could develop to replace Luis Enrique were he to leave or face the sack, with former Belgium manager Roberto Martinez and Rafa Benitez among the candidates who could rival the current favourite for the role, Marcelino Garcia Toral, the former Athletic Bilbao coach.
“With the future of Luis Enrique in the air, another of the issues that are put on the table is the list of candidates who already sound like future replacements. There are four main candidates: Roberto Martínez, who has just left the Belgian team, Marcelino Garcia Toral, the best positioned right now, Rafa Benítez and Luis de la Fuente, the Under-21 coach.”
How the rest of the world reacted
Speaking on ITV’s live coverage of the match, former England international and Telegraph Sport columnist Joe Cole described the result “unbelievable” given the disruption that Morocco have endured leading into the tournament.
“It's a real honour and a privilege to be here in front of all these Morocco fans and the emotion is palpable,” he told ITV.
“This is why we love football. I said before the shootout, they were heroes, whatever happened, but football is about moments.
“I've never taken a penalty, certainly not at this level. Unbelievable. I just can't believe this, my eyes keep getting drawn towards the fans and the party going on. I don't know when it's going to stop tonight.”
Cole added: “It's the first shock we've had at the knockout stages at the World Cup, this is the coach's sixth game in charge of the team.
“They were a mess. Ziyech didn't want to turn up and play under the last coach. They couldn't get anything going but they've turned up here and in the first game, the way they defended against Croatia, and they've just carried it going.
“The manager - I've been impressed with him. The subs he's made, the timing, the changing of the players, the tactics. Whenever you see a good team, there's always a good manager behind them. He's galvanised them.
“Ziyech has come back into the fold, he's been at Chelsea for two years and never put a shift in like that - tonight he was outstanding defensively. I know what he can do on the ball, can create things and handle a football, but he was two men out there tonight.
“Amrabat, outstanding. As good a holding midfielder we've seen at the tournament in terms of defensive instincts. This is the romance. It's the love story of the World Cup.”