Real Madrid influence shines through Luis Enrique's resurgent Spain

Reuters, Wednesday 12 Sep 2018

Spain's Sergio Ramos celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's fifth goal during the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Spain and Croatia at the Manuel Martinez Valero stadium in Elche, Spain, Tuesday Sept. 11, 2018. (AP)

Spain's golden era is often described as being constructed on a base of Barcelona players but the team's future looks set to revolve around footballers from Real Madrid if the resounding 6-0 hammering of Croatia on Tuesday is anything to go by.

Four of the six goals Spain scored in the UEFA Nations League game at Elche came from Real players, who comprised six of the starting 11 of the national team for the first time in 16 years.

The line-up allayed fears aired in the Spanish media when former Barca coach Luis Enrique was appointed as manager that he would exclude players from Real due to his previous dislike for the club.

It was striking, however, that midfielder Sergio Busquets was the only Barcelona player to be included in the team, a marked contrast from when Spain won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 by starting six Barca players in each final.

Real forward Marco Asensio dominated the headlines with two venomous strikes against Croatia -- the second was officially given as an own goal to goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic -- and three assists. Asensio's club team mates Sergio Ramos and Isco also scored in the biggest defeat in Croatia's history.

Spain's opening goal may have been scored by Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez, but it was provided by a cross from Real's Dani Carvajal after a cross-field pass by Real midfielder Dani Ceballos, who was making his international debut.

Luis Enrique played for Real for five seasons but in 1996 made a controversial move to arch rivals Barcelona, where he spent the rest of his career and also had a trophy-filled three-year spell as coach between 2014 and 2017.

He was rarely shy in expressing his opinion about Real, once saying "it's gratifying to be booed at the Santiago Bernabeu" and later remarked he did not even like to mention the club's name.

Those words were reprised in the Spanish media when he was named Julen Lopetegui's successor as Spain coach in July. However, it appeared after the thumping of Croatia, which came three days after a 2-1 win in his first game against England, that the coach bore no grudges.

"I didn't know I had picked six Real Madrid players and I'm not interested, to me they play for the Spanish national team and that's that," he told a news conference.

"If the base of the team is Real Madrid, I think that's fine. I only see one shirt, the Spain shirt."

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