Spain coach Luis Enrique set each of his players the “homework” of practising 1,000 penalties ahead of the World Cup, saying he is convinced they are not a lottery.
The 2010 world champions face Morocco in the last 16 on Wednesday morning (2am AEDT), with the threat of extra-time and penalties looming in the knockout phase of the tournament in Qatar.
Spain beat Switzerland on penalties at last year’s Euro 2020 but were eliminated on spot-kicks by Italy in the semi-finals.
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“Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Luis Enrique said.
“I imagine that they have done their homework. If you wait until getting here to practise penalties… (it won’t be enough).
The Spaniard insisted spot kicks were “not a lottery”.
“It’s a moment of maximum tension, a time to show your nerve, and that you can shoot the penalty in the way you have decided, if you have trained it a thousand times,” he said.
“It says a lot about each player. It’s trainable, manageable, how you manage the tension. It’s increasingly less luck — the goalkeepers have more influence.
“We have a very good goalkeeper, any of the three can do very well in this situation. Every time we finish training I see a lot of players taking penalties.”
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The Spain coach also responded to criticism over the team’s style of play – their commitment to playing out from defence sometimes puts them under pressure in dangerous areas.
Japan earned a shock 2-1 win over Spain, with their first goal coming after the European team lost the ball on the edge of their box and Ritsu Doan slammed home.
“Every team has their weapons,” said Luis Enrique. “We want to get the ball in the best way possible to the forwards.
“If we have to hit a long ball, we’ll hit it. The interpretation has to be done on the pitch.”
He said he did not agree with Spain’s critics.
“It doesn’t make sense to say that against Japan if we hoofed it away to clear our lines we wouldn’t have let in the first goal,” he said.
“We also wouldn’t have scored any goals if we kept kicking it long. We will keep playing the ball out from the back, it’s what we want.”
Luis Enrique confirmed that Cesar Azpilicueta had recovered from his knock against Japan and all 26 players would be fit to train ahead of the game.
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Meanwhile Morocco coach Walid Regragui has urged his team to believe they can defeat powerhouse Spain as they attempt to reach a first World Cup quarter-final.
The north African side are in the last 16 for only the second time after advancing as winners of Group F ahead of 2018 runners-up Croatia, having defeated Belgium and Canada in Qatar.
After an initial knockout round that has seen all of the favourites triumph, they are the last chance for a minnow to reach the final eight.
“It will be a very testing game for us. We’re coming up against one of the best footballing nations in the world. I think they’re one of the favourites to reach the final,” Regragui said.
“That said, we’ve also got things up our sleeve. We’ve had one extra rest day compared to them and we’re going to try and pull a surprise out of the bag.
“If we’re able to send Spain packing I think this will be a wonderful surprise not only for us but for our country.”
Spain denied Morocco a famous win at the 2018 World Cup with a last-gasp equaliser in a 2-2 draw, the only point the Moroccans picked up in Russia.
“We’re not seeking revenge at all. We’re not looking at what happened in the past,” said Regragui, who was appointed in August.
“We’ve got a new generation and, for me, the mentality has to change with the Moroccan team. All the negative aspects, that’s the old Morocco, we’ve changed. Our country’s changed.”
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Morocco, the lone Arab nation and the last African team remaining in Qatar, will have the vocal backing of thousands of fans for Tuesday’s game at Education City Stadium.
“We’ll come out swinging. We want to hoist the Moroccan flag way up high. We’re playing first and foremost for us and our country,” said Regragui.
“All Arabs and Africans, we want to make them happy. We want their prayers and we want their support so it can give us that extra ingredient to win. Before it was just the Moroccans that supported us.”
Morocco would become just the fourth African team to reach the quarter-finals – after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 – if they beat the 2010 champions.
Morocco’s only other appearance in the last 16 came in 1986, when they lost 1-0 to eventual runners-up West Germany.
“I don’t think we should go out with any sort of complex,” said Regragui. “Yes, we’re the underdog, but we know what Spain are made of and the recipe is easy. We shouldn’t be worried, we should have no regrets and give the best of ourselves.”
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