DOHA, Qatar (AP) — It was a World Cup victory fit for a king. Literally.
King Felipe VI was among those who congratulated Spain in Qatar after defeating Costa Rica 7-0 in the World Cup. The first match on Wednesday saw La Roja reintroduce the tiki-taka and hold a masterclass in ball possession and effective attacking to kick off their quest to win a second world title well.
The historic victory raised expectations about Spain’s chances of succeeding in Qatar and winning football’s most coveted trophy for the first time since 2010, when Xavi and Andrés Iniesta led the style of possession that hit the football world.
“Keep singing,” King Felipe VI told the players as he entered the Spain dressing room at Al Tumama Stadium after the match. “We loved it, as did everyone else. More than the result, it was a pleasure to watch you play.”
Spain is being led by a couple of teenage sensations who have added spice to the tiki-taka style. Gavi and Pedri, along with a group of other talented youngsters who made their World Cup debuts, provide the speed and energy, as well as the consistent fast passing and ball control inherent in this style.
“The idea was that all the players in midfield had a lot of touches, and from here the quality of our players prevailed,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique.
Spain made a record 1,003 passes in Wednesday’s 90-minute game and finished with 75% possession. Costa Rica had 17 tries against zero.
“Our only goal is to constantly control the game, and for that you need to have the ball,” said Luis Enrique. “The opponent gets frustrated and struggles to find a place. We were exceptional in the way we applied the pressure.”
Gavi, 18, and Pedri, 19, controlled the pace of the match, along with veteran Sergio Busquets, the only remaining member of the 2010 World Cup winning team. Up front, 22-year-old Ferran Torres, along with Dani Olmo and Marco Asensio, worked aggressively off the ball to quickly regain possession of the ball.
“It was a match where we were strong and we were going to win from the first minute,” said Gavi, who was named MVP and scored in the 74th minute, becoming the youngest World Cup scorer since Pelé in 1958. . .
“He’s a unique player,” Luis Enrique said of Gavi. “He is 18 years old, but he has the character of an experienced player. We are very glad that we have it. I think he will become one of the stars of world football.”
Spain have the third oldest team in this year’s tournament, but Luis Enrique isn’t worried that his players are getting too confident for the highly anticipated matchup against four-time world champions Germany on Sunday. The Germans lost 2-1 to Japan in the first match of Group E on Wednesday.
“Praise can make you weaker, but this team will not relax,” said Luis Enrique. “I know this because I see them training and I can tell you they don’t give up. Germany is a powerhouse and they can beat us, but we will play the same way.”
Spain, who hadn’t won their first World Cup since 2006, still had Xavi and Iniesta when they won their last major title at the 2012 European Championship. Now players like Pedri and Gavi will have to make the new tiki-taka flourish and lead Spain in their quest for the World Cup trophy.
So far so good, as even the king is impressed.
“It’s nice to start like this,” King Felipe VI told the players before leaving the team dressing room with a Gavi shirt signed by the whole team.
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