AP Sports

De la Fuente under pressure early as Spain’s new coach

Spain coach Luis de la Fuente reacts during the Euro 2024 group A qualifying soccer match between Scotland and Spain at the Hampden Park stadium in Glasgow, Scotland, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

MADRID (AP) — Two games in, and the Luis de la Fuente era in Spain is already being questioned.

A lackluster win and a disappointing loss were enough to put the new coach under the spotlight.

Spain needed two late goals in a hard-fought 3-0 win over Norway to open its qualifying campaign for the 2024 European Championship on Saturday, then fell 2-0 at Scotland on Tuesday after another poor performance.

De la Fuente’s Spain showed some of the same problems from the past — lots of possession and few scoring chances — leaving the coach under pressure to show some significant improvement the next time the team plays in June in the Final Four of the Nations League.

“It was a painful loss,” De la Fuente said after the Scotland match. “Analyzing the game now, we feel like we did enough good things to deserve a different result, but there is a lot to improve.”

The 61-year-old De la Fuente replaced Luis Enrique after the team’s elimination by Morocco in the round of 16 of the World Cup in Qatar. He took over while being relatively unknown in Spain after spending years coaching the nation’s youth squads. He came in as the latest attempt to breathe new life into Spain’s “tiki-taka” possession-based style that again looked outdated at last year’s World Cup.

Luis Enrique had failed to get his team to translate the tons of passes into goals, and De la Fuente had arrived pledging to make scoring a priority for the national team going forward. He brought in some of the nation’s top strikers while revamping the squad.

Spain managed only three shots on target against Scotland — the same as its opponent — despite having nearly 70% of possession. It was Spain’s first loss to the Scots in 39 years, and its first defeat in European qualifying since 2014. The result left La Roja three points behind first-place Scotland in Group A of Euro 2024 qualifying.

“We need to learn from this match, but the overall plan doesn’t change,” said De la Fuente, who made eight changes to the squad that started against Norway. “We have to work hard to try to win the remaining matches.”

Spain’s next qualifying game isn’t until September, when it visits Georgia. It will first face Italy in the Nations League on June 15 in the Netherlands, when the De la Fuente will be under heightened scrutiny.

“Unfortunately there’s a long time until we play again,” De la Fuente said. “Certainly we will do better in the future.”

The criticism had already started, though.

“Disaster,” said a headline by the sports daily Marca. “What’s the plan?”

“Spain fails to make the cut in Glasgow and will have to recover in September,” wrote the Mundo Deportivo sports daily.

Spain midfielder Rodri tried to downplay the team’s early setbacks.

“Please, let’s not start with the doubts already,” he said. “We are working hard and a lot of good things have been done. We all win and lose together.”

The pressure is on, though, and the De la Fuente era is already in jeopardy.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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