Spain reception in Catalonia delights Luis Enrique after slender win against Albania

By Sports Desk March 26, 2022

Luis Enrique promised Spain would not wait another 18 years before playing in Catalonia again after a noisy home crowd roared his team to a 2-1 win over Albania.

La Roja had not played in the region since February 2004, when they tackled Peru in a friendly at the Montjuic Olympic Stadium, so Saturday's game was significant from that perspective.

With many in Catalonia harbouring hopes of independence from Spain, Saturday's match at Espanyol's RCDE Stadium was a test of what loyalty there remained to the team.

Head coach Enrique was pleased it proved overwhelmingly positive, and late goals from Ferran Torres and Dani Olmo, either side of a freak equaliser, carried Spain to victory.

"The people deserved that joy," said the Spain boss. "Barcelona likes the national team and the national team likes to come to Barcelona.

"I have been here for many years, and they have always treated me with respect and affection. Catalonia always respects."

 

Luis Enrique – who previously played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, and coached the former from 2014 to 2017 – added: "It would have bothered me a lot not to win, because of the unique atmosphere that we have experienced.

"I don't remember a game, where I have played or coached, in which the fans have been so decisive. It is impossible that we will be another 18 years without coming here."

Spain remain a work in progress, and they struggled to convert possession into clear-cut chances for long stretches of this friendly fixture. They had 81.5 per cent of possession and played a startling 948 passes to 212 by Albania.

From this they attempted 13 shots, and their expected goals total – reflecting the quality of chances – was a modest 1.7 against a team ranked 65th in the world by FIFA.

Substitute Yeremi Pino created the 75th-minute opener by winning possession from dawdling defenders and threading an ideal ball that Barcelona forward Ferran Torres cracked beyond Etrit Berisha.

Pau Torres then headed a long ball against Albania's Myrto Uzuni and the ball squirted past goalkeeper David Raya to bring Albania level with five minutes remaining.

Olmo had the final say, however, with the RB Leipzig man curling a fine finish into the top-right corner.

"There is a lot of room [for improvement] because we are one of the youngest teams," said the coach. "We do a lot of things well, but we still have a way to go."

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