Spain coach Luis de la Fuente faces a key moment early in his reign when his side takes on Italy in the Nations League semi-final on Thursday in Enschede.
The 61-year-old was a surprise appointment in December in place of Luis Enrique after Spain crashed out of the World Cup against Morocco in the last 16.
An unconvincing win over a Norway side without striker Erling Haaland, despite the emphatic 3-0 scoreline, and a 2-0 defeat in Scotland in his first two matches in March drew strong criticism in Spain.
Some reports have even suggested his future could be on the line if the team falls short in the Nations League final four in the Netherlands.
De la Fuente wants Spain to play in a broadly similar fashion to Luis Enrique’s possession game, which bordered on the dogmatic, albeit with more capability to go direct when required.
While supporters and media are unsure about De la Fuente, his players stood up for him earlier this week.
“The coach is working very well, with enthusiasm and hope, and that’s the most important thing,” said defender Jesus Navas.
“I’d highlight the energy, the work and the unity, it’s very exciting. He’s with us in every moment, helping us.”
The veteran defender was called up after nearly three years away from the national team.
One of De la Fuente’s early moves was to tell centre-back Sergio Ramos that he was not needed, provoking the former Real Madrid player to complain he was being unfairly discarded because of his age.
However, De la Fuente said he was picking the players he thought would best serve the team and the 37-year-old Sevilla defender’s selection represents that.
Goalkeeper Unai Simon also backed De la Fuente, who coached him at youth level.
“He’s a very good coach, a good motivator, he doesn’t get annoyed or lose the plot, he’s a very good manager,” said the Athletic Bilbao player.
“For me, he’s grown a lot. In the (Olympic) Games, he showed his capacity to (coach) Spain.
“What I’ve seen of what he transmits, and the tools that he gives us are the right ones to face this competition, he has all my confidence.”
Simon pointed out that De la Fuente’s predecessor, Luis Enrique, who won the treble with Barcelona in 2015, was also criticised.
“The figure of the coach has always been debated, with Luis Enrique you also debated him,” continued the goalkeeper.
“We’re not thinking about what happened in Glasgow, we’re thinking about the semi-final. What happened won’t weigh us down, it will serve us as learning.”
With Champions League final goalscorer Rodri and his Manchester City team-mate Aymeric Laporte spending the start of the week celebrating their European triumph, new “signing” Robin Le Normand may earn his debut.
France-born Real Sociedad defender Le Normand obtained Spanish nationality in May and was called up for the final four, which represents a chance for La Roja to end a decade-long trophy drought.
Spain’s last international success came in 2012 with European Championship triumph, secured with a 4-0 romp over Italy, who won the 2020 edition.
Paris Saint-Germain left-back Juan Bernat pulled out of the squad injured and was replaced by new Real Madrid signing Fran Garcia on Monday.
Dani Olmo is also a doubt for the clash with Italy, but De la Fuente has not replaced him, hopeful the forward will be fit for a prospective final against hosts the Netherlands or Croatia.
That Sunday showpiece in Rotterdam is the target for De la Fuente and his team and failing to reach it would be a further strike against his fledgling career at the top level.
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