Spain unable to break down Egypt in unconvincing opener

'La Rojita' was unable to beat Egypt, considered by many to be the weakest team in the group

| AFP

Jordi Carné

It only took 90 minutes for the Spanish national football team to realise that the road to the country's second Olympic gold will be a frustrating one. Despite having by far the best squad in the tournament, it's not going to be a walk in the park for 'La Rojita'. Against Egypt, who are considered to be the weakest team in the group, the Spanish players discovered that they will need to be more competitive if they want to reach the final on 7 August, and cannot rely solely on their individual quality and playing philosophy. The group's dream is to win Olympic gold, 29 years after they last did so in the 1992 games in Barcelona. They were held to a goalless draw in a match in which they were the better side, but were unable to translate their superiority into a numerical advantage.

After being knocked out in the group stage in London 2012 and not even qualifying for Rio 2016, Spain started the game with lots of intensity, looking to start the tournament in a positive manner. Luis de la Fuente's XI was packed with top-class players, with 128 senior caps between them. Six of the starting eleven (Pedri, Eric Garcia, Óscar Mingueza, Unai Simón, Pau Torres, Dani Olmo and Oyarzabal) were all part of Spain's senior squad for Euro 2020. Other players, such as Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio, also have a wealth of top-level experience. Mingueza received a knock to the ankle five minutes into the game, before withdrawing with a problem in his left hamstring shortly after the fifteen-minute mark. Vallejo was his replacement.

Spain's first half was not a bad one. They dominated possession, pinging the ball about with speed and purpose. Their opponents, Egypt, do not have any star names - particularly with Liverpool's refusal to release Mohamed Salah for the tournament - but they are a well drilled, physical, compact and hard-working outfit. Spain tried to disturb their shape, but they were unable to get around the back of the Egyptian defence. At times it was reminiscent of the attacking hesitancy of Luis Enrique's senior side. Spain had only mustered two weak shots on goal by the 27th minute, with two attempts by Marco Asensio. The best chance of the half fell to Dani Ceballos, who struck the woodwork with a powerful effort. Ceballos was another first half casualty, after being on the receiving end of an accidental foul by Taher. He was replaced by Moncayola just before the break.

Frustration with Egypt's deep-lying defence

Spain failed to break Egypt down as the minutes ticked by. The Egyptian wall did not even flinch in the face of Spain's fruitless and futile attempts, maintaining its concentration and intensity throughout the encounter. They set out to frustrate De la Fuente's side and their game plan worked perfectly. The Spain coach brought on Rafa Mir, Carlos Soler and Spurs-bound Bryan Gil in search of a breakthrough, but 'La Rojita' continued to face the same problems. While the set-up was reasonable, there were too many individuals playing below their level. If Spain wants to retain its tag as "favourites", some of its players will need to find their best form in the next fixtures.

Rafa Mir had two opportunities to win the game for Spain. First, he was unable to find the target with a free kick. Shortly after, following a good move involving Miranda and Bryan Gil, Mir's goal-bound header was stopped by El Shenawy. Carlos Soler and Vallejo also tried their luck from distance but were unable to trouble the 'keeper. Spain must beat Australia (Sunday 25 July at 12:30 CET) in its second group match if it wants to avoid the final group game against Argentina (Wednesday 28 July, 13:00 CET) becoming a must-win game.

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