Spain Is Covid-Hit But Can Cope Better Than Others At The Euros

There is growing unrest within Spain’s squad as the European Championship edges ever closer. Sergio Busquets—its most experienced current player—has contracted Covid-19, as has center-back Diego Llorente, scuppering the team’s preparations.

There is now a sense of paranoia that other members of the first team—currently in self-isolation—could add themselves to the unavailable list. In case the virus spreads, a “parallel” group has formed.

Six standby players gathered first: soccer’s most expensive stopper Kepa Arrizabalaga, defender Raúl Albiol, midfielders Pablo Fornals, Brais Méndez, Carlos Soler, and competent forward Rodrigo Moreno. That number has since increased, with U21 players added as a precaution.

The original group has been returning negative tests, so the chances of a first-team outbreak are pretty slim. If the virus spreads ahead of Spain’s opening fixture against Poland, there will be an issue. If only a few miss out, Spain is better placed than most to manage.

Euro 2020’s integrity would have weakened significantly had a coronavirus wave affected another participant ahead of the spectacle. North Macedonia and Finland, for instance, are competing in their first-ever major competition and need all their quality players ready to compete. Meanwhile, Austria and Ukraine’s showings at the last championship were pretty poor, and they are hoping for a response.

Spain, however, is blessed with many capable options, with some players drafted in having Premier League or La Liga experience. Luis Enrique has shown faith in many faces during competitive games this last year, in both the Nations League competition and tournament qualifiers. Many of those could have made his initial squad but didn’t.

The U21 setup also contains reliable players who reached the semi-final of their major Euros tournament. Among the best are Getafe bright spark Marc Cucurella, who would not look out of place in the senior side, and Óscar Mingueza, now a regular for Barcelona. The U21s stepped in for Spain’s preparatory friendly against Lithuania, which it won 4-0.

They are unlikely to be brought in, however. UEFA cap on Euros squads is 26 players, and Enrique only selected 24 initially because he didn’t want to pick anyone without a realistic chance of participating. If further problems ensued, Spain would struggle to replace the bulk of unusable players. Instead, the squad would crack, potentially leading to fixture postponements and, if nobody remained available, forfeited matches.

But this is highly unlikely. What is likely is that Busquets and Llorente’s plight will allow others to shine. Rodri, who now looks comfortable at Manchester City in England, is arguably a better option than Busquets in the defensive midfield position. The readiness of teammate Aymeric Laporte, alongside Pau Torres—now a Europa League winner—means there are reinforcements at the back too.

One possible hiccup is the knock-on effect of the disruptions. Changes are unsettling, and any nation wants to know the starting lineup. Understanding each others’ game is also crucial for a set of players.

Yet, as long as the majority stays fit and trusts the manager’s system, Spain will, as usual, be hard to beat.

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