DOHA, Qatar (AP) – It was a World Cup win for a king. Literally.
King Felipe VI congratulated Spain in Qatar after beating Costa Rica 7-0 at the World Cup Kicking things off on Wednesday, “La Roja” reintroduced the “Tiki-Taka” and offered a master class in possession and efficient attack to get off to a good start in their quest for a second world title.
The historic victory raised expectations for Spain’s chances of success in Qatar and lifting football’s most coveted trophy for the first time since 2010 when Xavi and Andrés Iniesta stunned the footballing world.
“Keep singing,” said King Felipe VI. to the players as he entered Spain’s dressing room at Al Thumama Stadium after the game. “We enjoyed it, as did everyone else. More than the result, it was delightful to watch you play.”
Spain is spearheaded by a couple of teenage sensations that have lent some clout to the ‘tiki-taka’ style. Gavi and Pedri, along with a group of other talented youngsters making their World Cup debuts, provide the speed and energy to keep up with the consistently fast passing and ball control inherent to the style.
“The idea was that all the players in midfield have a lot of touches and from there the quality of our players prevailed,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique.
Spain completed a record 1,003 passes for a 90-minute game on Wednesday, finishing with 75% possession. It had 17 tries against Costa Rica’s nil.
“Our only goal is to constantly control the game and to do that you have to have the ball,” said Luis Enrique. “The rival is frustrated and is struggling to find space. We were exceptional in how we pushed.”
18-year-old Gavi and 19-year-old Pedri controlled the pace of the game along with veteran Sergio Busquets, the sole remaining member of the 2010 World Cup-winning team. Up front, 22-year-old Ferran Torres worked aggressively on the ball along with Dani Olmo and Marco Asensio to quickly regain possession.
“It was a game where we came out strong and we wanted to win from the first minute,” said Gavi, who was named MVP and became the youngest World Cup goalscorer since Pelé in 1958 in the 74th minute.
“He’s a unique player,” Luis Enrique said of Gavi. “He’s 18 but has the personality of a seasoned player. We are very happy to have him. I think he will become one of the stars of world football.”
Spain have the third youngest squad at this year’s tournament, but Luis Enrique is unconcerned about his players going into Sunday’s much-anticipated match against four-time world champions Germany with too much confidence. The Germans lost 2-1 to Japan in the opening game of Group E on Wednesday.
“The praise can make you weaker, but this team will not relax,” said Luis Enrique. “I know because I see them training and I can tell you they’re not going to let up. Germany are a powerhouse and can beat us, but we will play the same way.”
Spain, who had not won a World Cup opener since 2006, still had Xavi and Iniesta when they won their last major title at Euro 2012. Now it’s up to the likes of Pedri and Gavi to lead the new ‘Tiki-Taka’ to success and lead Spain in their quest for the World Cup.
So far so good, because even the king is impressed.
“It’s nice to have such a start,” said King Felipe VI. to the players before exiting the team’s dressing room with a Gavi shirt signed by the entire squad.
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