Luis Enrique claimed Spain are among the top teams in the world, but insisted they have to improve if they want to be the best.

La Roja defeated a plucky Kosovo side 2-0, making it consecutive wins to top Group B after Sweden ended their 66-game unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying that stretched back to 1993.

Pablo Fornals was on target for his first international strike, while Ferran Torres scored to become the first player to score six goals in a calendar year for Spain since David Silva (seven) in 2017.

Second-place Sweden slipping up against Greece opened a four-point gap but Luis Enrique implored his team to improve if they are to challenge to be the world's number-one outfit.

"We have made many mistakes, we have had many inaccuracies and we have suffered because of that," Luis Enrique told reporters post-match.

"It was a great relief to score the second goal, which ended the match and see the result that we all hope.

"This group is excellent and eager to improve, accept everything that they are told with the idea of being a stronger team. [We] made changes, six or seven new players coming in but the idea and philosophy stays the same.

"But we are not the best in the world even though we are among the best. Anyone can beat us and there is no one who wins every game."

The Spain head coach also bemoaned the quality of the pitch in Pristina, a sentiment echoed by Aymeric Laporte, who recorded a game-high 139 touches and completed another game-leading 96.9 per cent of his 129 passes.

"It was a highly contested game, we got [the win] at the end and it relieved us," Laporte said post-match.

"The pitch was not optimal. We kept our idea of playing and with a pitch like this, it is complicated.

"In the end, the important thing is the result. We have the determination to win everything, we are Spain and now we have to win everything."

Spain consolidated their spot at the top of Group B with a narrow 2-0 win over Kosovo in Wednesday's World Cup qualifying clash.

Pablo Fornals' first international goal from a tight angle and Ferran Torres' late strike proved the difference as Milot Rashica and Vedat Muriqi were made to rue missed chances for the hosts.

The visitors' loss against Sweden was their first in World Cup qualifying since 1993 and ended a 66-match unbeaten run but wins against Georgia and Kosovo have got them back on track.

Luis Enrique's men sit four points clear of Janne Andersson's side, who were beaten 2-1 by Greece on Wednesday, although they have two games in hand.

After Koke's deflected shot brought the first save from Arijanet Muric, Elbasan Rashani fired narrowly wide with a curling left-footed effort as the hosts dominated the opening stages.

Fornals punished Kosovo for not making their dominance pay, the West Ham man blasting a left-footed strike past Muric after a smart turn following Alvaro Morata's offload.

Morata almost doubled the lead with a long-range attempt before Carlos Soler's speculative free-kick forced the Kosovo goalkeeper to parry away.

Rashica offered Spain first-half warnings running in behind but they did not learn their lesson, Muriqi racing through one-on-one with Unai Simon after the break before dragging into the side-netting.

Torres then attempted a cute free-kick, arrowing under the wall but the wrong side of the left-hand post before Simon produced a low reflex save against Zymer Bytyqi as Spain clung onto their lead.

Torres added a late finish of his own, racing through and finding the bottom-left corner, with the goal standing after VAR reversed an initial offside decision.

What does it mean? Spain by no means cruising in Group B

Luis Enrique's men had won only one of their previous nine away fixtures, including friendlies, in all competitions but Wednesday's performance ended that poor run of form on the road.

Spain have coasted past Kosovo and Georgia by an aggregate score of 6-0 and now hold a four-point advantage over second-place Sweden, who now have Greece just three points behind them.

Kosovo, in contrast, responded well to a timid start in World Cup qualifying but failed to extend their unbeaten run to three games, leaving them in fourth with four points.

Super Soler

Despite being withdrawn in the 58th minute, Soler stood out as one of the visitors' key performers.

Against Georgia, he became only the second player since 2006 to score in their two opening games for Spain and he followed up in similar fashion, recording a game-high five key passes.

The Valencia midfielder also misplaced just three of his 43 passes, while also winning a team-high three fouls alongside Sergio Busquets.

Misfiring Muriqi

Muriqi wasted Kosovo's best chance as he slammed wide when set free one-on-one with Simon and after scoring in back-to-back games he will have been frustrated to not convert.

The forward also misplaced half of his 18 passes, losing possession 17 times as he completed just 27.3 per cent of his 11 opposition-half passes.

What's next?

Spain face Italy in the Nations League semi-final in October before travelling to Greece for their next qualifier the following month. Kosovo make the trip to Sweden on October 9.

Luis Enrique has reiterated he would love to see Pep Guardiola take over as Spain coach in the future.

Former Barcelona coach Guardiola suggested last month that he wishes to try his hand in international football after leaving Manchester City.

Guardiola's City deal runs until 2023, and while he plans to take a break whenever his time at the Premier League club is up, he also wants to experience coaching a national team.

Luis Enrique helped continue the legacy his former team-mate built at Camp Nou and said he would have no issues in standing aside for Guardiola.

In fact, it is something Luis Enrique wants to see.

"I'd love that, I wish [Guardiola] was the Spain coach. I'd love it – it would be perfect," he enthused in a news conference ahead of Spain's World Cup qualifier against Kosovo.

"What's more, I'd love to see our national team with his stamp on them.

"I don't think Spain could have a better coach."

Spain have not had it all their own way in qualification but nevertheless sit top of Group B after they bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Sweden by thrashing Georgia 4-0.

The Euro 2020 semi-finalists only hold a one-point advantage over Sweden, however, having played two games more.

As was the case for the Euros, Luis Enrique again did not select any Real Madrid players in his latest squad, though he played a straight bat when pressed on his decision on Tuesday.

"My actions speak louder than words [with regards to Real Madrid players]," he said.

"I could only dig myself a hole with an explanation."

Luis Enrique was pleased with the way Spain responded to their defeat to Sweden with a comfortable victory over Georgia on Sunday.

La Roja suffered a shock 2-1 loss in Stockholm on Thursday, their first in 66 World Cup qualifying matches stretching back to 1993.

They bounced back in style in Badajoz, with goals from Jose Gaya, Carlos Soler, Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia securing a 4-0 win.

Head coach Luis Enrique felt the margin of victory could have been even greater given Spain's dominance, with Torres and Sarabia each seeing a goal disallowed for offside in a match in which the home side completed 820 passes to Georgia's 264.

"We professionals are used to living on a rollercoaster," Luis Enrique said. "You have to go through pain after a defeat, but quickly bite the bullet and think about the next game.

"Although it seems like the result was easy, it wasn't. We got through them on the inside, the outside, we created chances and we could have scored more goals."

The only disappointment for Spain was seeing some players forced off with physical problems.

While Luis Enrique thinks Aymeric Laporte was simply feeling some muscle fatigue, he is worried Gaya could have a bigger concern.

"Most of the changes were due to some discomfort for the players. I hope there are no serious injuries. That's the bad news," he said.

"Laporte has nothing, it's just a small overload. I don't think they'll even test him.

"Gaya does not look good."

 

Luis Enrique remains optimistic that Spain will book their place at next year's World Cup, but is now focused on progressing via the play-offs rather than topping their qualifying group.

La Roja's hopes of topping Group B were dented by a 2-1 defeat to Sweden on Thursday, leaving them two points behind the leaders and having played an extra game.

It was the first time Spain had lost a World Cup qualifying match since a 1-0 reverse by Denmark in 1993, ending a 66-game unbeaten streak.

At the midway point in the campaign, Luis Enrique believes that topping the group is out of his side's hands and has turned his focus to securing second place and a play-off berth.

Addressing the media ahead of Sunday's meeting with Georgia, the head coach said: "Football is a game of mistakes; individual and collective. 

"There is no single cause as to why we lost the [Sweden] game. It's the sum of everything.

 

"It's no longer up to us. But it's up to us to win our own and be in the play-offs, win it and be in the World Cup. 

"There are two sides. You can always improve, but I try to see the bottle half-full."

Luis Enrique also backed defender Eric Garcia, who came under scrutiny following his performance against Sweden.

"I disagree with the criticism," he said of the Barcelona defender.

"He suffered in the transitions, but also [Aymeric] Laporte, because of the conditions of the Swedes. I'm delighted with their performance."

Jordi Alba leapt to the defence of Spain coach Luis Enrique after La Roja suffered their first World Cup qualifying defeat since 1993 at the hands of Sweden on Thursday.

In what was their first game since losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, Spain were in Stockholm hoping to go top of Group B on the road to Qatar 2022.

It was initially going well too, as Carlos Soler opened his account less than four minutes into his international debut as he turned in an Alba delivery.

But the Valencia midfielder made an error almost straight after the restart and Alexander Isak netted from 20 yards, meaning Spain's lead lasted just 63 seconds.

Viktor Claesson got the winner for Sweden in the second half, producing a cleverly disguised finish after inventive play by Dejan Kulusevski, with Spain's late pressure coming to nothing.

In the end, Spain – who had 75 per cent of the ball – finished with an expected goals value of 2.2 to Sweden's 0.6, highlighting the lack of decisiveness shown by La Roja in front of goal compared to their hosts.

Alba does not believe a major re-think is required for Luis Enrique, though he accepts Spain now have to be faultless if they are to usurp Sweden atop Group B given they are now two points adrift having played a game more than Janne Andersson's men.

"As in all matches, when you win or lose, you have to improve," he told Teledeporte. "The ideas of ​​the coach have been very good since he arrived and the players are taking to it perfectly. We have to improve as in all games, but we are doing a good job.

"It's clear we still have a lot to do. We have no margin for error. Today we have lost and there are still difficult games to be won.

"We have done things well, they have had their chances, they have put them in and we must continue to improve and do the job that the coach asks of us.

"We didn't deserve to lose. We had a very good first half, it's just a shame that after our goal they scored their goal in the next play.

"In the second half they waited for their strengths [counterattacks] and they did very well. We have no margin for error, we must win every game; we had that idea from the beginning, but now more than ever."

Luis Enrique echoed his left-back's sentiments and stressed Spain did not play poorly in general, though he rued a lack of success in midfield duels as well as Sweden's success in transition, with the pace and ability of Kulusevski and Isak routinely threatening the defence.

"It was not a bad game, there was ambition, good positioning, we have created many chances but we have lost many duels in midfield," he added.

"And with the transitions they have done us a lot of damage. We have lost many duels and they have generated more transitions than in the last ten games."

Luis Enrique insists there is nobody better than Pep Guardiola to succeed him as Spain's next head coach.

Guardiola revealed this week he intends to leave Manchester City when his contract expires at the end of next season and explore opportunities at international level.

Spain could be on the lookout for a new leader at that point, with Luis Enrique's deal set to expire after the next World Cup at the end of 2022.

The La Roja job would be an obvious choice for Guardiola, who won 47 caps for his country, and Luis Enrique would be happy to see his former team-mate take up the role.

"I would love that. It would be perfect to see his mark on the national team," Luis Enrique said at a news conference on Thursday.

"I don't think Spain could have a better coach than Pep Guardiola. I'm sure he would do a great job."

Luis Enrique was speaking after naming his squad for Spain's World Cup qualifiers against Sweden, Georgia and Kosovo over the next fortnight.

Like at Euro 2020, there are no Real Madrid players in Spain's 24-man group, while Sergio Ramos – who has since joined Paris Saint-Germain – is once again absent.

Ramos has not played since May and ex-Barcelona boss Luis Enrique, previously accused of showing anti-Madrid bias, has defended his latest team selection.

"The situation with Sergio is the same as last season," he said. "Sergio has not been able to compete in a single game since we gave the last list.

"As for the selection, my actions respond better than my words."

Euro 2020 semi-finalists Spain have won two and drawn one of their opening three World Cup qualifiers and lead the way at the top of Group B.

Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara has been left out of Spain's squad for their triple-header of September fixtures.

Thiago made four substitute appearances for Spain in their run to the semi-finals of the European Championship finals, but the 30-year-old – who has just nine minutes of Premier League action under his belt this term – has been overlooked for selection.

Pedri is another notable absentee from Luis Enrique's 24-man squad, though that was expected as the Barcelona midfielder has been given a rest following his participation at Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics.

Dani Olmo, Mikel Oyarzabal and Pau Torres, three other members of Spain's Olympic contingent, will also be given a breather over the first international break of the season.

Fabian Ruiz and Diego Llorente, of Napoli and Leeds United respectively, are the others to have dropped out of Spain's squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Sweden, Georgia and Kosovo over the next fortnight.

Like at Euro 2020, Luis Enrique has decided against calling up any Real Madrid players, meaning no place in the squad for Dani Carvajal, Marco Asensio and Nacho Fernandez.

Abel Ruiz, Brais Mendez, Pablo Fornals, Mikel Merino and Carlos Soler have all been called up, while Inigo Martinez and Raul Albiol are also included.

La Roja have won two and drawn one of their first three qualifiers and lead the way at the top of Group B ahead of their upcoming trio of matches.

 

Spain squad in full:

David de Gea, Robert Sanchez; Unai Simon; Aymeric Laporte, Cesar Azpilicueta, Eric Garcia, Inigo Martinez, Jordi Alba, Jose Gaya, Raul Albiol; Brais Mendez, Carlos Soler, Koke, Marcos Llorente, Mikel Merino, Pablo Sarabia, Rodri, Sergio Busquets; Abel Ruiz, Adama Traore, Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres, Gerard Moreno, Pablo Fornals

Luis Enrique hailed Spain sensation Pedri, comparing the teenager to Barcelona and La Roja great Andres Iniesta following Tuesday's Euro 2020 semi-final loss to Italy.

Italy booked their place in the final with a 4-2 penalty shoot-out victory over Spain after the enthralling showdown finished 1-1 at Wembley.

Despite Spain's frustrating outing after substitute Alvaro Morata cancelled out Federico Chiesa's opener, it was a memorable campaign for 18-year-old star Pedri.

Pedri became the first European player in major tournament history (World Cup and Euros) to start as many as six such matches at the age of 18 or below and Luis Enrique lavished the Barcelona midfielder in praise.

"Well I think no 18-year-old has done what Pedri has done in any major competition, whether it's the Euros, the World Cup or the Olympics," Luis Enrique told reporters.

"His performances, the way he reads the game, the way he finds space, his quality, his personality, I've never seen anything like that, not even Andres Iniesta.

"It's absolutely impossible to explain."

Luis Enrique also lauded attacker Dani Olmo, adding: "[He] was absolutely fantastic today, he's a very intelligent player with plenty of quality. He is good between the lines, he picks up the ball well.

"We wanted to starve [Giorgio] Chiellini and [Leonardo] Bonucci of that focal point and I think we did that really well. We wanted to prevent them from doing what they did with [Romelu] Lukaku so it was about creating that four versus three in that area of the pitch. That meant it was going to be difficult for them to take the ball from us.

"We created a lot of chances and I think we were just missing that final step in terms of taking some of our chances. It's very difficult to get the ball off a player like Dani Olmo so I think the players implemented our tactics to perfection. Olmo is a very important player for us because he can play in a range of different situations. He can score goals and he's a very complete footballer."

 

Left out of the starting line-up for the first time this tournament, Morata made an impact from the bench by equalising with 10 minutes remaining in normal time following Chiesa's 60th-minute opener.

Neither side could find a way through in the additional period in what was a repeat of the 2012 final, which Spain won 4-0 for their third European title, though it was Italy who prevailed in Tuesday's enthralling clash.

Morata's penalty was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, paving the way for Jorginho to convert the winning spot-kick, as Italy extended their unbeaten run to 33 games to set up a clash with either England or Denmark in Sunday's final at the same ground. 

Embattled forward Morata has now scored more goals at the European Championships than any other Spain player (six), overtaking Fernando Torres' five goals. In fact, Morata became the first ever Spain player to score for club and country at Wembley.

Morata is also in rarefied company as the second player to scored three or more times in multiple Euros after Cristiano Ronaldo, who has done so on three occasions.

"He has an abductor problem. It really says a lot about his personality that despite that he wanted to take a penalty. He's gone through some tough times during this tournament but he was brilliant," said Luis Enrique.

"He really created a lot of uncertainty in the Italian ranks, he scored of course, so he was excellent. I haven't seen him because he's had to go to doping control. I was able to see Jordi Alba, but I'll go and see him now.

After Spain failed to progress from a semi-final at a major tournament (World Cup and Euros) for the first time in their history, Luis Enrique said: "I'd say that it would be an A- for my players, it would be an A+ had we won. We've been speaking about how we want to play at the Euros for many months.

"The players really bought into that and they did a wonderful job of it. I have no complaints. Really, I just want to congratulate my players. We've shown that we are a team and that we are going to continue doing that. Now it's important for us to rest while the rest of the teams compete and we'll see each other again at future training camps."

Alvaro Morata has been dropped to the bench for Spain's Euro 2020 semi-final against Italy at Wembley.

The 28-year-old Juventus striker had started all five of Spain's matches at the tournament, scoring twice – including a vital extra-time strike in the dramatic 5-3 win over Croatia in the round of 16.

But Morata has also endured a tough time in front of goal, missing a penalty during the 5-0 rout of Slovakia.

Of his 16 non-penalty attempts in the tournament, seven have been on target and he is under-performing an expected goals (xG) tally of 3.16, as per Opta.

Luis Enrique has staunchly defended the former Atletico and Real Madrid player but substituted him after 54 minutes of the quarter-final against Switzerland.

Gerard Moreno was his replacement in St Petersburg but the Villareal striker went on to endure a similarly wasteful outing and Luis Enrique has opted for a mobile front three without a specialist centre-forward, with Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal starting alongside Ferran Torres.

That means Pablo Sarabia misses out, alongside Gerard's club team-mate Pau Torres, who is replaced at centre-back by Eric Garcia.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini makes the one expected change to the XI that beat Belgium, with Chelsea left-back Emerson coming in for Leonardo Spinazzola, whose magnificent tournament was cut short by a ruptured Achilles.

This is the fourth consecutive European Championship meeting between Italy and Spain, with the latter winning a quarter-final penalty shoot-out in 2008 before swaggering to a dominant 4-0 final win at Euro 2012.

Italy, under Antonio Conte, gained a measure of revenge with a 2-0 last-16 triumph in Paris at Euro 2016.

Alvaro Morata may not have been prolific in terms of goals at Euro 2020 but his selfless work for the team is vital for Spain, according to Gaizka Mendieta.

Striker Morata has scored twice to help Luis Enrique's side reach the semi-finals of the tournament, though his failure to capitalise on the opportunities that have come his way has led to criticism.

Indeed, the 28-year-old has been booed by his own fans both before and during the European Championship, while his family have been targeted for abuse too.

Yet former Spain international Mendieta feels Morata's team-mates appreciate all he does for the cause, even if his finishing has let him down at times. From 15 attempts, he has a shot conversion rate of 13.33 per cent.

An expected goals total of 3.95 highlights a shortcoming for the former Chelsea and Real Madrid player in front of goal, yet he has started every game ahead of the last-four clash with Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Gerard Moreno – an alternative option to lead the line in place of Morata – has yet to score at the European Championship from 15 shots, while Dani Olmo has been unsuccessful with all of his 16 attempts. The problem for La Roja in general has been taking chances, rather than creating them.

"I think people are being very critical," Mendieta told Stats Perform. "I believe Morata is a player who gives a lot to the team in terms of work, mobility, keeping the ball and creating spaces for midfielders and wingers like Olmo, [Ferran] Torres or even Moreno.

"I think he is doing a great job and that's one of the main reasons he is in the team. Of course, he is a striker and you expect goals from him and unfortunately it is where he has been unlucky.

"He hasn't finished the chances he had and that's what has made noise.

"Beyond this, I think the team is grateful for his work. He is the first one realising he should improve scoring and creating chances and I am sure he is working on it.

"Those critics are understandable, but his efforts are respected."

 

Luis Enrique has been unequivocal in his support of Morata, describing the abuse directed at the player and his family as a "serious crime" as he called for the authorities to take action.

The Spain boss has steered the team through choppy waters at Euro 2020. Having opened the campaign with two dour draws, the 2012 winners found their scoring touch in a 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia to qualify behind Sweden from Group E.

A wild last-16 clash with Croatia eventually went Spain's way after extra time, while a penalty shoot-out was required to see off Switzerland in the quarter-finals.

Mendieta, however, feels Luis Enrique has created an environment where his players are able to respond to any match situation, good or bad.

"He gives value to the player in order to make him part of the plan," he said of the former Barcelona head coach.

"I think that is reflected on the pitch; a common idea but at the same time it is the player who needs to find solutions. The coach cannot do that for them on the pitch.

"That's why I think the Spain team had a great reaction in tough times in some games. Especially in the group stage, in the last game. They are a team with a great character, just like Luis Enrique himself."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique hailed the impact of newcomer Aymeric Laporte after his controversial allegiance switch ahead of Euro 2020.

Laporte is the only Spain defender to play every game at Euro 2020 and looms as a key figure in Tuesday's semi-final against Italy in London.

The France-born Manchester City centre-back only made his international debut last month after being granted Spanish nationality in May.

Laporte, who moved to Spain as a 16-year-old and came through the Athletic Bilbao system, had been capped at every under-age level by France and called up twice for the senior team in 2019 but never debuted for Les Bleus.

Luis Enrique and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) pursued Laporte over the past three years, despite the player claiming it was "out of the question", eventually winning him over ahead of Euro 2020.

"As soon as he was able to play with us he began to do a huge amount for us," Luis Enrique said during Monday's news conference. "He's a top defender, both in the attacking and defensive phases.

"We obviously need our defenders to have composure in order to bring the ball out and pick out that free man in midfield.

"He is strong in the air, he can play with both feet, he is physically strong, he's quick, he's strong, as I've said, he is good at playing on the front foot, he is good with how he covers.

"He's a top defender and we are delighted that Aymeric has decided to play for Spain."

Laporte's inclusion in Spain's European Championship squad has arguably vindicated Luis Enrique's decision to exclude veteran captain Sergio Ramos.

Luis Enrique has a selection headache with Pablo Sarabia unlikely to be fit to face Italy due to a muscle injury, having started in the quarter-final penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland.

RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo replaced Sarabia at half-time against Switzerland and is a likely preferred option.

"They are all fit except Sarabia," Luis Enrique said. "Physically they are well and tiredness ends 45 minutes after finishing the quarter final game."

Luis Enrique's Spain bossed possession (73 per cent) against Switzerland but relied on penalties to advance to the last four, despite having 28 shots to eight.

Spain have reached the semi-finals of the European Championship for the third time in the past four editions of the competition (failing to do so in 2016). They have gone on to win the Euros on each of the past two occasions they have reached the final four – in 2008 and 2012.

After losing each of their first four matches at Wembley between 1955 and 1968, Spain have only suffered one defeat in their past five games there (W2 D2). However, they were knocked out of the Euros in 1996 at Wembley, losing to hosts England on penalties.

Luis Enrique was wary of Italy's desire for possession too, in a looming clash of styles.

"I think that's one of the main questions really," he said. "We are leaders in terms of possession stats but they are also a side that can use the ball and enjoy their football with the ball.

"I guess that's the first battle to win. I think that they are very good without the ball as well. They've shown that at times during the championship, but they are far more comfortable with the ball.

"Our objectives are clear. We need the ball, we want to have it. If we have to play a different game we'll adapt but of course we'd prefer to have possession."

Italy and Spain are preparing to face one another for the 10th time at a major tournament, but Luis Enrique believes this is an Azzurri side like never before.

The two old rivals have been paired again in the semi-finals at Euro 2020, making this the most common fixture at the European Championship and World Cup combined.

This will be the seventh Euros clash, with the sides meeting at least once in four consecutive championships.

Spain eliminated Italy in 2008 and beat them in the final in 2012 but were toppled by the Azzurri four years later and now face a rejuvenated Roberto Mancini outfit.

"This Italy side isn't, perhaps, like the ones of years gone by – one that would sit back and wait to see what happened," Spain coach Luis Enrique said.

"This is an Italy side with great players who aim to have a lot of possession. This will be the first battle in the game: who dominates possession?

"I don't think both of us can dominate, so it'll be interesting to see who wins this tussle.

"Apart from having top players, Italy are a real team. They attack and defend as a unit, which is really similar to what we do.

"They also employ a high press, which it would be hard to imagine an Italian side from the past doing.

"Now they're strong in several ways of playing, meaning that the game will be really interesting. Both teams will have their moments."

Mancini, whose men are unbeaten in 32 and have won 13 in a row, was asked how Italy's Jorginho might match up against Sergio Busquets.

 

Among midfielders to have played 90 minutes or more at the tournament, Busquets ranks eighth for passes attempted per 90 (77.7) and Jorginho 10th (74.9).

"Certainly, they are among the best in their role," Mancini said.

"Busquets has been a fantastic player for many years. He has been around for longer, compared to Jorginho.

"Considering the way he is playing right now, however, Jorginho is certainly among the best, too."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy – Emerson

Leonardo Spinazzola has been one of the tournament's most impressive players at wing-back for Italy, creating seven chances from open play – including one assist – and having a championship-high six shot-ending carries. Emerson is likely to be the man asked to step in, having replaced Spinazzola against Belgium after he was taken off on a stretcher, and has big boots to fill.

Spain – Pedri

Busquets might have been the man at the centre of pre-match discussion, but Pedri has arguably been Spain's most impressive midfield performer at these finals. Against Switzerland, he created five chances and made five tackles. The Barcelona teenager has been involved in five more shot-ending sequences (35) than any other player at Euro 2020.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Italy have only beaten Spain twice in their past 14 meetings in all competitions (D7 L5), a 2-1 friendly win in 2011 and, most recently, a 2-0 victory at Euro 2016 in the last 16, with goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle.
– The Azzurri have reached their 12th semi-final at a major tournament (EUROs/World Cup), with only Germany (20) appearing at the final four stage more often among all European sides. They have progressed from nine of the previous 11 semi-final ties, including each of the past four – most recently in this competition in 2012 when they eventually lost in the final to Spain (4-0).
– Italy have won all five of their matches at Euro 2020, the only side of the remaining final four with a 100 per cent record to date. Only at the World Cup (Italia 90) have they won more games at a single major tournament (six), while the only European side to win each of their first six games at a major tournament was the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup, when they suffered defeat to Spain in the final in South Africa.
– Spain have reached the semi-finals of the European Championships for the third time in the past four editions of the competition (failing to do so in 2016). Indeed, they have gone on to win the competition on each of the past two occasions they have reached the final four – in 2008 and 2012.
– After losing each of their first four matches at Wembley Stadium between 1955 and 1968, Spain have only suffered one defeat in their past five matches there (W2 D2). However, they were knocked out of the Euros in 1996 at Wembley, losing to hosts England on penalties.

Luis Enrique said it was a good thing Gerard Moreno missed a string of chances in Spain's victory against Switzerland rather than Alvaro Morata following the recent criticism aimed at the Juventus striker.

Three-time European champions Spain booked their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 on Friday with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over 10-man Switzerland.

La Roja, who needed extra time to overcome Croatia in the last 16, were pegged back by a Xherdan Shaqiri strike in St Petersburg after Denis Zakaria's own goal had put them in front.

Even after Remo Freuler's dismissal with 77 minutes played, Luis Enrique's men could not find a way through due to a mixture of profligacy and a number of Yann Sommer saves – a tournament-high 10 in total.

Gerard replaced Morata and endured a tough time of it, the Villarreal striker missing a number of good opportunities to win the tie for Spain before penalties were required.

He managed six shots, half of those on target, while his expected goals (xG) return of 3.3 for the tournament so far is the highest of any player yet to score at Euro 2020.

Morata revealed last week he and his family had been subjected to abuse by Spain fans, and Luis Enrique is glad the striker was not the recipient of any more criticism on Friday.

"Luckily it was Gerard Moreno who failed to take the chances. If Morata misses them, you impale him," the Spain head coach said after the quarter-final win.

"It's quite evident what Morata has experienced and what Gerard has experienced. They are both my players and I love them very much."

 

Spain are the sixth team to progress from two separate knockout games of a single European Championship tournament that went to extra time or beyond, all five previous sides going on to lift the trophy.

They were on the back foot when Sergio Busquets missed the first spot-kick, but Fabian Schar, Manuel Akanji and Ruben Vargas all failed to find the net for Switzerland.

Asked if he felt nervous watching the shoot-out, Luis Enrique said: "It was a tranquil moment for me because we'd already worked on everything. Nothing else could be done.

"Win or lose on penalties, the team would have done excellently for my judgement. For how they've handled this, how they've played, how they've represented Spain.

"We are so proud. It'd be ridiculous to think that we, or any of the semi-finalists, would settle for just getting that far now – all of us want to get to the final and win.

"I've said from the outset that we are one of the seven or eight teams which, no exaggeration, could win this trophy – now we're one of four."

Switzerland knocked out competition favourites France on penalties in the last round following an incredible 3-3 draw, but they ultimately could not do likewise against Spain.

It is the fourth time the Swiss have been eliminated from a major tournament at the last-eight stage, with each of those previous occasions coming in the World Cup.

"I have mixed feelings," said head coach Vladimir Petkovic after the game. "I have pride – we can all be so proud. We leave here with our heads held high. 

"On the other hand, we were so close to the semi-final, and that doesn't happen often. I have more positive than negative feelings.

"Congratulations to Spain. They tried everything and in the end won on penalties. I am very proud of my team, and all the players.

"My players were the heroes of the night. We would have deserved to go to the semi-final."

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