Euro 2024 favorites? ‘No one better’ than Spain, says coach

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GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — Luis de la Fuente said there is no team better than Spain after they beat Italy 1-0 on Thursday to make it two wins from two and book their place in the knockout rounds of Euro 2024.

A second half own goal from Italy defender Riccardo Calafiori was the difference at the Arena AufSchalke, but Spain coach De la Fuente felt the scoreline flattered the Azzurri.

“It’s not just the win, it’s the manner in which we did it against the current European champions,” De la Fuente said during a news conference. “We were superior physically, tactically and in terms of the talent of our players.

“We dominated and controlled Italy and should have won by more with the chances we had. There is room to improve, but we saw the potential this Spain team has, nullifying a team like Italy. Now we have to go step by step.”

Spain racked up 21 shots to Italy’s three as they became the second team to progress to the last 16 after hosts Germany.

“When the knockout rounds start it comes down to small details,” De la Fuente added when asked if Spain and Germany’s early progress singled them out as tournament favourites.

“There is no one better than Spain, but we have to be prudent. It won’t be easy. The other teams will get to know us better, but I still say that that if we work well, there is no better team.

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“In my opinion, Spain have the best football in the world. But I know what this team is made of and we all know that we have not done anything yet. We have to be prudent, humble and have respect.”

Italy’s fate in the tournament will be decided in their final group game against Croatia on Monday, although they are still well-placed to progress after beating Albania in their opener.

Nico Williams was especially sharp, with the Athletic Club winger helping create the Spain goal and being awarded the UEFA Player of the Match.

“Things worked very well and my teammates helped me a great deal,” he said in a news conference. “They got me in one-on-one situations, which are my forte.

“When you go past the full-back for the first time, it makes it easier and gives you confidence for the rest of the game.

“I think it’s my most complete performance with Spain and I hope to kick on and be able to help the team as much as possible.

“I’m doing everything in my power to contribute for the team and head coach here. I’ve always dreamed of being involved at this level, playing in the Euros and winning Player of the Match. I’m delighted.”

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Williams revealed he was cheered by his teammates when he returned to the Spain dressing room, where he had a message waiting for him from his brother, Athletic teammate and Ghana international Iñaki.

“My teammates applauded me in the dressing room and I’d like to thank them for helping me out with their ability on the pitch,” he added.

“When I grabbed my phone, the first message I saw was from my brother straight away, a voice message. He provides unconditional support for me. This is for him, my parents and the Williams family. I hope my family are enjoying this as much as I am.”

Spain close Group B on Monday against Albania in Düsseldorf. Midfielder Rodri will miss the game through suspension after picking up his second booking of the tournament, while De la Fuente may opt to make further changes after sealing qualification.

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