Spain coach's penalty call brutally backfires in World Cup nightmare

Spainish coach Luis Enrique is pictured left, with Spain and Morocco's goalkeepers Unai Simon and Bono pictured right.
Spainish coach Luis Enrique's bold claim that his players completed 1000 practice penalties before the FIFA World Cup has backfired after a shootout loss to Morocco. Pictures: Getty Images

Spanish coach Luis Enrique might be considering a different approach to his country's next appearance at the FIFA World Cup, after a penalty shootout disaster against Morocco ended their tournament. Enrique had boasted before the tournament began that his players had each practiced 1000 penalty kicks in the months leading up to the tournament in Qatar.

Spain's brutal defeat at the hands of Morocco saw them claim the unwanted record of the most lost penalty shootouts in World Cup history, with five. Enrique described the 1000 penalty kicks as 'homework' - but given Spain failed to make even on against Morocco, that wisdom is being questioned.

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All three of Spain's attempts were missed, with Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou proving to be a safe set of hands between the posts. It comes after Spain were defeated on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-final against Italy, having earlier defeated Switzerland from the penalty spot previously.

Prior to Spain's match against Morocco on Wednesday morning, Enrique had boasted earlier in the week about setting the penalty 'homework'. He was adamant that the high-pressure stakes of the penalty spot were not a 'lottery' and that sufficient practise would be of major benefit at the World Cup.

“Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique declared earlier in the week, prior to the clash with Morocco. “I imagine that they have done their homework. If you wait until getting here to practise penalties... (it won’t be enough).

“It’s a moment of maximum tension, a time to show your nerve, and that you can shoot the penalty in the way you have decided, if you have trained it a thousand times. It says a lot about each player. It’s trainable, manageable, how you manage the tension. It’s increasingly less luck — the goalkeepers have more influence.

“We have a very good goalkeeper, any of the three can do very well in this situation. Every time we finish training I see a lot of players taking penalties.”

Spain coach's bullish approach to penalties backfires

Though it might have been tempting to poke fun an Enrique for his absolute confidence in his side's penalty-taking ability, most felt sympathy for the brutal fashion in which Spain's campaign came to an end. Midfielder Sergio Busquets said the penalty defeat was a 'cruel' fate.

“It was a pity. It was decided on penalties in the most cruel way,” said Busquets. “It was tough, very hard for us. We tried to wear them down, give them the run-around, find spaces. We lacked that little luck for the final ball.

Morocco won their round of 16 clash against Spain on penalties, a major FIFA World Cup upset. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Morocco won their round of 16 clash against Spain on penalties, a major FIFA World Cup upset. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon, who was the hero of the side's Euro 2020 heroics against Switzerland, said it was a bitter blow to go down on penalties. he believed Spain had been the better quality side during regular time.

“I think in the 120 minutes of the game we were superior to our opponents, but what I say counts for little now if we can’t find the net,” he said. “In the shoot-out they were superior and that is what took them to the quarter-finals.

“We are seeing that there are surprises throughout the World Cup. We were not capable of overcoming them and we did not expect to be eliminated against Morocco, but it’s the reality and now we have to go home.”

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