Returning Busquets tells Spain Euro 2020 squad: I've missed you so much!

By Sports Desk June 18, 2021

Spain captain Sergio Busquets admitted it was "almost impossible" to stay optimistic when he tested positive for COVID-19 just as Euro 2020 was about to begin.

On Friday, Busquets made an emotional return to the squad following a frustrating stretch in isolation, hugging coach Luis Enrique and team-mates as he arrived back in camp.

The Barcelona midfielder was removed from Spain's training base near Madrid and whisked away by ambulance on June 7, yet now he has been given the all-clear and is poised to contribute as Spain attempt to book a last-16 spot.

Busquets said he was "very happy, on a high" to learn he was healthy to rejoin the group, but recalled the sorry moment when he was told he had the virus.

"The doctor called me, he told me, and at that moment you have a lot of feelings, such as that you don't believe it, concern about what might happen, whether it could be a false positive, many things," Busquets said.

"The moment I got into an ambulance and turned for home, I went through everything. You try to be positive but in those moments it is almost impossible and you think about when you will be well, if you will be able to return, if you will get back on time.

"There are many unanswered questions that go through your head in a bad moment."

Busquets is likely to play his first match of the tournament when Spain face Slovakia next Wednesday in their final Group E game.

Speaking in a video released on the team's official Twitter page, Busquets said: "I am very grateful, not only to team-mates, but also to the president, the staff, the coach, the entire group that is in the bubble."

The 32-year-old said he had kept in constant contact with those in the Spain camp, adding they made it clear "they were waiting for me with open arms".

"I have missed you so much, you don't know how much," he told his team-mates.

"Thank you very much for all the messages worrying about me, making me feel like I was here even though I was at home. I am very proud of all of you, of the first game, of everything you are doing here and that is the way, so there is a lot left and I'm sure everything will go well."

In Busquets' absence, Spain drew 0-0 with Sweden in their opening Euro 2020 Group E game, a match in which they had 85 per cent of the possession but only five shots on target.

They play their second group game against Poland in Seville on Saturday, with Busquets expected to be a spectator after missing almost two weeks of training.

While Busquets will bolster the midfield whenever he returns to action, Spain have pressing issues in attack following the Sweden game.

They have now failed to score in two of their past three matches – having also drawn a blank in the pre-tournament friendly against Portugal earlier this month – and that is as many scoreless performances as they had in their previous 51 internationals.

Spain have not experienced successive games without finding the back of the net since 2013 at the Confederations Cup, and should they again miss out against Poland it would mean the Slovakia game becomes hugely important.

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    Gavi is retaining faith in Spain's style of player even if the impressive teenage star knows La Rojo must learn from the mistakes made against Japan when they face Morocco in the last 16 of the World Cup.

    Spain were on course to top Group E when Alvaro Morata headed an early opener on Wednesday, but goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka helped the Samurai Blue leapfrog their opponents in stunning fashion.

    For three incredible minutes, Spain even looked set to join Germany in making an early exit as Costa Rica briefly occupied second place.

    Spain ultimately survived despite seeing their seven-match unbeaten run (excluding shoot-outs) at the World Cup halted, and Gavi says Tuesday's game represents a chance to right some wrongs.

    "The match against Japan has to serve as a lesson for what is to come. Luckily, that defeat has been resolved and we are clear about what we have to do," Gavi told Marca.

    "We are in the round of 16 and there are some very good teams that haven't been able to do it. That's why we have to really think that pressure is a privilege."

    Spain completed 2,489 passes in their group-stage campaign, their most at a single tournament on record (since 1966), while their tally of 969 passes against Japan was a record for a losing team at the tournament.

    While Morocco showed their counter-attacking quality to claim four points from games against Croatia and Belgium, Gavi believes Spain must stick to their principles.

    "We are not going to lose focus on the goal, which is to win the World Cup," he added. 

    "We are going to look for it by being faithful to what we have been doing all these years. It would be a mistake to give up everything we believe in."

    Morocco are featuring in the knockout stages of a World Cup for just the second time, having been beaten at this stage by West Germany in 1986.

    The Atlas Lions are chasing a slice of history on Tuesday, when they could match the longest unbeaten run managed by an African side at the World Cup – currently Cameroon's five-game sequence between 1982 and 1990.

    After a 2-1 win over Canada ensured Morocco topped Group F, coach Walid Regragui called for his side to aim high.

    "We didn't come just to say 'oh, we almost got close'," he said. "We need to get the results as all the European or South American teams do. We need to emulate them."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Morocco – Hakim Ziyech 

    While Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd are likely to be busy in the Morocco backline, Regragui's men will carry a threat at the other end – chiefly through Chelsea creator Ziyech.

    Ziyech has played more passes into the box (17) and created more chances (4) than any other Morocco player at the World Cup, as well as leading his team-mates for ball carries (43) and combined distance carried (477.6 metres).

    While Ziyech's counter-attacking prowess is clear, he also scored his first World Cup goal last time out, and the 29-year-old could be a thorn in Spain's side.

    Spain – Alvaro Morata

    While Barcelona playmakers Gavi and Pedri have stolen the headlines for Spain in Qatar, fine margins can often decide knockout games – and Morata's contribution could be key. 

    Though maligned by some, Morata has been consistent in front of goal at this tournament, hitting the net on each of his three appearances despite playing a total of just 126 minutes.

    Morata started two of Spain's three knockout games at Euro 2020 last year, and if he can reward Luis Enrique's faith with another goal, he will join David Villa as just the second Spanish player to score in four consecutive World Cup matches.

    PREDICTION

    Spain have never lost in their three previous meetings with Morocco (W2 D1), and Opta's prediction model makes them strong favourites to advance to the last eight, giving them a 61.3 per cent chance of victory.

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    The Atlas Lions have provided one of the great underdog stories of this tournament, but their chances of an historic victory are rated at just 14.7 per cent, making them big outsiders.

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    If reports in the Spanish media are to be believed, former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique might be replaced as Spain boss after the World Cup, but ahead of Tuesday's last-16 tie with Morocco, he has full conviction in his approach.

    "We are talking about 270 minutes if I'm not wrong, plus added time [in the group stage]," Luis Enrique said in a press conference when he was asked if his team failed to recover from setbacks during matches. 

    "Out of 300 minutes in total, you focus on 10 minutes that you didn't like. As far as we progress, you will see more of these minutes.

    "We are footballers and the opponents also play. There are things to be improved, and I'm sure we will be bitten by Morocco in some moments of the game.

    "We can't take blows? What about them? Did Germany take it well when we scored? We are in a competition where the score dictates the risk you are willing to take.

    "Other teams pull back but we keep attacking and of course we need to improve that."

    Asked if his team lacked the experience required to see out spells of pressure, Luis Enrique replied: "It's such a cliche, we have to try and get rid of this idea.

    "I don't believe they lacked experience. Experience in what? Being builders, carpenters? When you lose, people talk about issues and if you win, they don't.

    "I don't share this analysis. This team will be recognised by the way we play, analyse our matches, our philosophy but not these sorts of issues.

    "Mistakes happen, we are talking about a very complex, unfair sport, 11 players on a huge field, it's impossible to control all the aspects.

    "At the end of the day the ones making the decisions are the players, I want them to implement my idea and I want them to buy the whole package when they lose, it's not fair to only buy it when we win."

    Spain have only made it beyond the round of 16 once at the last four World Cups, when they went on to win the trophy in South Africa in 2010. This record, though, is of no concern to Luis Enrique.

    "This is not our usual trend, to look at everything from a negative perspective," he said.

    "I am not concerned about those results. I want to control the things I can control as a coach. I want my team to play in a certain way, I want my players to forget about the result.

    "Football is not fair but if you have more merit you usually win the game. I am convinced we will have more merit than Morocco. Our objective was to play seven games, so we want to play seven games."

  • Ronaldo set to sign for Saudi side Al Nassr Ronaldo set to sign for Saudi side Al Nassr

    Cristiano Ronaldo is set to sign for Saudi Professional League club Al Nassr on a two-and-a-half-year deal following his exit from Manchester United, according to reports.

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    The 37-year-old wished to leave United ahead of the 2022-23 season, and confirmed in his interview with Morgan that he had turned down a lucrative offer from a Saudi Arabian club.

    However, Marca on Monday reported that Riyadh-based side Al Nassr are close to signing the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

    A move to the gulf state would mark the end of Ronaldo's illustrious career in Europe, having starred for United, Juventus and Real Madrid - indeed, he is Los Blancos' record goalscorer.

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    At Al Nassr, he is expected to net close to €200million per season, with additional economic incentives, a sum that would make him the highest-paid athlete in the world.

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    Ronaldo originally returned to United ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, but has mostly been frozen out under new boss Erik ten Hag this season, prompting an explosive interview that contributed to his departure.

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