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EUROS 2024: Total Mismatch – Spain’s Best Team Since 2012

"There is no argument that this is the best Spain team I have seen since we beat Italy in the 2012 final," Balague told BBC Radio 5 Live.

They may not have been favourites a couple of weeks ago – but two matches in and Spain have announced themselves as serious Euro 2024 contenders.

Thursday’s impressive 1-0 win over Italy – sealed by Riccardo Calafiori’s own goal – saw them become just the second team to qualify for the last 16 in Germany.

With youngsters Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal thrilling on the flanks, Spain will be wondering how they didn’t beat a surprisingly flat Italy by more.

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Spain have made a perfect start – also thrashing Croatia 3-0 in their first Group B match – as they hope to end a 12-year wait for a major trophy.

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They are winning with style too. Spanish football expert Guillem Balague described them as “the best Spain team since 2012” while BBC pundit Chris Sutton called their victory over Italy a “total mismatch”.

‘Sky is the limit’ for Spain

Spain dominated world football between 2008 and 2012 – winning two European Championships and a World Cup – but their record at recent major tournaments has been underwhelming.

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The team has been dumped out at the last-16 stage at every World Cup and European Championship since 2016, the one exception being their run to the semi-finals at Euro 2020.

Manager Luis de la Fuente took over in 2022 having led the under-21 side to European youth glory in 2019.

He lifted the Nations League title with Spain last year and now believes his young and exciting team are at the top of their game.

“[It was] the best Spain performance [since] I’ve taken charge,” said the 62-year-old.

He added “the sky is the limit” for his side, a feeling shared by many of BBC Sport’s pundits.

“There is no argument that this is the best Spain team I have seen since we beat Italy in the 2012 final,” Balague told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“It is very rare that there is such a big gap between two big teams, very rare.

“This was the perfect performance. It had absolutely everything.”

Premier League winner Sutton said that other teams “won’t want to be facing [Spain] in the knockouts” and that their win over Italy was a “total mismatch”.

Meanwhile, Italy manager Luciano Spalletti said Spain “have played the best football for the longest time now”.

Williams applauded by team-mates in dressing room

Spain’s wingers Williams and Yamal have a combined age of just 37.

Sixteen-year-old Yamal made headlines with his man-of-the-match performance against Croatia on Saturday. This time it was Williams who particularly caught the eye.

The Athletic Bilbao forward – who was also in Spain’s 2022 World Cup squad – regularly got the better of experienced Italy right-back Giovanni di Lorenzo, even nutmegging his opponent in the first half.

He was inches away from getting the goal his performance would have deserved when he rattled the crossbar with a fierce long-range shot late on.

The 21-year-old came off to a great reception in the 78th minute and told reporters he was applauded by his team-mates in the dressing room after the match.

“Williams has pure quality. He has real pace, can go left and right,” ex-Manchester United captain Roy Keane told ITV1.

“[He was the] best player on the park. When young good players come into your group, it lifts everyone. They won’t be playing with any fear.”

BBC World Service’s John Bennett was in Gelsenkirchen and added he was “genuinely astounded by [Williams’] talent”.

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