Nations League: Spain's seeks elusive win in Portugal
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By TALES AZZONI
MADRID (AP) Coach Luis Enrique tried to stay optimistic about Spain's chances of advancing in the Nations League following a disappointing home loss to Switzerland.
After all, La Roja can still secure a spot in the Final Four with a win in Portugal on Tuesday.
"It's a final and we will go there to try to win it," Luis Enrique said after the 2-1 loss to Switzerland at the weekend, which dropped Spain from first to second in Group A2 ahead of the decisive match in Braga.
But beating Portugal isn't something Spain has been able to do recently. The Iberian neighbors have drawn their last four matches, and Spain has not won at Portugal in nearly two decades.
Its last victory against Portugal came in a penalty shootout in the semifinals of the 2012 European Championship, and before that it won in the round of 16 of the 2010 World Cup in a match where Portugal complained of an offside on David Villa's winning goal in the second half.
Playing in Portugal, Spain is winless since a 3-0 victory in a friendly in 2003, when Fernando Torres made his national team debut with Spain, and not long after Cristiano Ronaldo began playing for Portugal.
The teams have drawn four straight since coach Fernando Santos took over Portugal after the 2014 World Cup.
Spain needs the victory after seeing its 22-game unbeaten run at home ended by Switzerland on Saturday. Portugal won 4-0 at the Czech Republic to take first place and earn a chance to advance with a draw on Tuesday.
"Our goal would be the same even if Spain hadn't lost, we will try to win the match in Braga," said Portugal defender Diogo Dalot, who scored twice against the Czech Republic. "It's going to be a complicated match but we will do out best to make it to the next round."
Only the group winners advance to the Final Four, which will be played next June. Portugal has 10 points, two more than Spain. Switzerland has six points, two more than the Czech Republic ahead of their match in Switzerland to try to avoid relegation.
Spain is looking for its second consecutive appearance in the Final Four after finishing runner-up to France last year. At that time, it also needed a last-day victory to advance to the Final Four, and it did it by shocking Germany 6-0 at home.
Luis Enrique said he didn't expect many changes in the squad for the match against Portugal despite the loss on Saturday, though he admitted the team had to improve its defending of set pieces, which is how Switzerland scored both of its goals.
Portugal, the winner of the inaugural edition of the Nations League in 2019, may see the return of forward Joao Felix, who was not available for the match against the Czech Republic because of an injury. He rejoined his teammates in training on Sunday.
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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni
Updated September 26, 2022