Monday 21 January 2019

Spain still trust De Gea '100 pc' despite blunder

Spain goalkeeper David De Gea. Photo: Getty Images
Spain goalkeeper David De Gea. Photo: Getty Images

Jim White

Despite his mistake against Portugal in the opening match in Group B, despite the gathering swell in his homeland against his continuing presence in the Spanish team after he allowed a tame shot from Cristiano Ronaldo to slip through his hands and into the net, David de Gea will play for Spain against Iran this evening.

"We trust him 100 per cent," said Fernando Hierro, the freshly installed Spain coach. "We have been saying for a long time he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Of course he plays."

The Manchester United goalkeeper will line up behind a Spanish team which will show only one change from that which was matched by Ronaldo's masterclass. Dani Carvajal, recovered from injury, will replace Nacho at right-back.

But then it would have been an extraordinary demonstration of panic for Hierro to make wholesale changes in a team that, for much of the game against the Portuguese, looked as slick and accomplished as any Spanish side since the winners of the competition in 2010.

Not that he was thinking of the manner in which they played against Ronaldo and company.

"Now we have to forget Portugal, concentrate on Iran," said Hierro, who was appointed coach only two days before the opening game, after Julen Lopetegui was sacked for accepting a job with Real Madrid.

"It is nice to think we did nice things on the pitch in the last game. But we need the three points here to give ourselves options for the -final group game."

In truth, it should be an easy stroll for Hierro. He has at his disposal some of the finest players in the game. One of whom, the veteran midfielder Andres Iniesta, aged 34, was sitting alongside him at the pre-match press conference, insisting that the team spirit has not been affected by Lopetegui's hasty defenestration.

Hierro's opposite number Carlos Queiroz - whom he described as "a wonderful guy and a close personal friend" - has no comparable resources, especially now that the central element of his defence, the obdurate Roozbeh Cheshni, has been ruled out of the rest of the competition after suffering an ankle injury in the victory over Morocco.

Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh is poised to replace the 24-year-old alongside Morteza Pouraliganji in defence. To make matters worse, Iran have been compromised by the recent return of international sanctions: they arrived in Russia without a delivery of new boots they were expecting after Nike was obliged to pull out of its contract.

"They just want to play football, why should they be punished with sanctions?" complained Queiroz of his players. "They cry and laugh, they have wives and children, they are ordinary people."

But he added he did not want their wider political problems to be regarded as an excuse.

"Despite this situation, my principles are based on no excuses, we play for the shirt. Nobody point fingers, we take our own responsibility. I say to my players when you finish the game, be sure you come out with head up, make the Iranian fans proud of you. Put the shirt of Iran in a higher place."

Hierro appeared more than aware of Iran's sense of unity. "They are a strong team, a together team, they score 30 per cent of their goals from set pieces. We have to respect them as we respect every opponent."

Though few, even among the expected 30,000 Iranian supporters in the Kazan Arena, would be willing to predict anything other than a comfortable victory for the Spaniards.

Even Queiroz, when asked whom he thought might challenge for the cup, inadvertently seemed to diminish his team's chances of progressing from Group B.

"Spain, Portugal, Germany, Brazil, these are the countries who will be in it at the end," he said.

Though he added he did have an idea about how to engineer a miraculous result here. "If there was a magic potion to conquer the Spanish team for a million dollars we would gladly buy it, despite our financial troubles." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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