Spain setting aside World Cup to focus on Nations League

September 21, 2022 GMT
Real Madrid's Rodrygo, left, battles for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Koke during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Real Madrid's Rodrygo, left, battles for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Koke during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Real Madrid's Rodrygo, left, battles for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Koke during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Real Madrid's Rodrygo, left, battles for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Koke during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Real Madrid's Rodrygo, left, battles for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Koke during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID (AP) — Koke Resurrección and his Atlético Madrid teammates feel right at home in the Spain setup.

Koke, Marcos Llorente and Álvaro Morata are used to not thinking too far ahead, as Atlético coach Diego Simeone is an avid proponent of the match-by-match attitude. He has gone by that motto since arriving at the club a decade ago and his players have fully embraced it.

Spain coach Luis Enrique has been pushing the same thinking.

The World Cup is in two months but Luis Enrique wants his players to focus on a more pressing issue —qualifying for the Nations League Final Four.

“It feels like the World Cup is right here, but there’s still a lot of time left,” Koke said. “Now we are focused on trying to qualify to the Final Four in a tournament in which we were very close to winning last time. Hopefully we can make it and that would give us a lot more confidence for what is ahead.”

Spain lost last year’s Nations League final to France. It leads Group 2 entering the last two group stage matches — at home against Switzerland on Saturday and at Portugal on Tuesday. La Roja has a one-point lead over Portugal. Only the group winner advances.

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Others have bought into thinking one game at a time.

“We have to focus on the Nations League and go match by match,” Spain forward Pablo Sarabia said on Wednesday. “The team is working well, it has a good dynamic. It’s the right path for us.”

Defender José Luis Gayà said it was a request by Luis Enrique to leave the World Cup aside for now.

“These are the last matches before the World Cup, but the coach has asked us to forget about the World Cup,” Gayà said. “For him, and for us, the Nations League is very important. We have a chance to make it to the Final Four and we have to forget about the World Cup and focus on these two matches. There will be time for the World Cup afterward.”

Spain will try to rebound from a disappointing World Cup in 2018, when it was eliminated by host Russia in the first knockout round. Coach Julen Lopetegui was fired just days before the team’s opening match for taking the Real Madrid job without telling federation officials.

ANTI-YELLING TECH

There is no more yelling necessary by Luis Enrique during Spain’s training sessions.

La Roja is using a technology in which the coach can talk directly to his players on small speakers installed on their undershirt vests, the same ones that carry their data-collecting GPS devices.

It works like a walkie-talkie, and the coach can speak normally on his end and the players will hear his instructions in real time during practice.

To help Luis Enrique, a platform was constructed at the training center so he and his assistants can watch the players’ movements from a higher angle.

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