Luis Enrique

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Spain coach Luis Enrique steps down for personal reasons

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer federation says Luis Enrique is stepping down as coach of the national team for personal reasons.

Federation president Luis Rubiales says assistant coach Roberto Moreno will take over.

Moreno has been in charge of running of the team since Luis Enrique had to step away for what the federation said were “family reasons” in March.

Since then, Luis Enrique had continued working remotely from his home in Barcelona, receiving video feeds of practices and talking to Moreno and his other assistants.

The former Barcelona coach and player was named Spain coach following last year’s World Cup. He coached the team through the Nations League and its first European Championship qualifier, a 2-1 win over Norway.

Spain has won all three of its European qualifiers with Moreno on the sideline.

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Spain: Luis Enrique staying despite personal problem

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer federation has dismissed concerns about coach Luis Enrique leaving the national team.

The federation has not considered replacing him despite his long absence for personal reasons, it said on Friday.

Luis Enrique missed the first round of qualifiers for the European Championship this year and will miss the next round in June because of an undisclosed personal problem.

“The federation remains fully committed with the coach of the national team,” federation sports director Jose Francisco Molina said. “The federation never considered making a change and our position has been relayed to him. The mutual commitment remains intact. For us there were never any doubts, and we hope to be able to count on the coach for a long time.”

Molina dismissed Spanish media reports the federation was looking for a possible replacement for the coach, and said Luis Enrique has also never showed any sign he was considering leaving the national team.

“It never came up,” Molina said. “The mutual goal is to remain together.”

Molina said there was no timeline for Luis Enrique’s return, adding that during “this difficult moment” the federation is making sure it gives its unconditional support to him.

Neither the federation nor Luis Enrique have disclosed details about the problem that has kept him sidelined since March, when he had to abandon the team camp just before its qualifying match at Malta.

Molina spoke before assistant coach Robert Moreno made the squad announcement for the qualifiers against the Faeroe Islands and Sweden in June.

Moreno said Luis Enrique remains very active and in close communication with his staff, and made all the final decisions regarding the players summoned on Friday. He said the coach will continue to follow the team’s practices and matches remotely.

“He is still working with us, the dynamic remains the same,” said Moreno, who also replaced Luis Enrique on the bench in the first two qualifiers. “We’ll have him close to us throughout the training camp.”

Spain plays at the Faeroe Islands on June 7, then hosts Sweden at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium three days later. It leads Group F with six points, two more than Sweden and three more than both Romania and Malta.

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Luis Enrique calls Spain performance ‘atrocious’ after England loss

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Luis Enrique was not a happy man after Spain fell 3-2 to England in UEFA Nations League Group A play, marking the first home competitive loss for Spain in over 15 years.

The former Barcelona manager conceded that thanks to a second-half improvement, the hosts were actually quite close to a thrilling comeback, but ultimately the first half letdown was too much to overcome.

[ RECAP – England knocks off Spain 3-2 ]

“The first half, atrocious, it has to be recognized,” Enrique told the media after the match. “We arrived late pressing, the first goal killed us. And we made so many individual errors.”

Enrique said that despite the disappointing opening 45 minutes, he did not make any halftime substitutions because he believed the team would improve with an encouraging halftime talk. “I told them [at halftime] great teams have suffered,” Enrique said. “We forced the opposition back, and it’s a shame we didn’t score earlier because we would have had 3-3 and the comeback.”

The Spain boss was especially focused on how the team pressed, blaming that for the first-half struggles but also for the improvement after the break. “I think in the second half we changed everything. We pressed better, and again we were very close.”

Paco Alcacer making most of 2nd chance with Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Close to seeing his career stagnate, Paco Alcacer is making the most of a second chance to become Spain’s top striker.

Alcacer scored twice in his first appearance for Spain in two-and-a-half years to lead a 4-1 away win at Wales in a friendly last week.

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On Monday, the former Barcelona player will likely feature again when Spain hosts England in Seville seeking a second win over Gareth Southgate‘s team in the incipient Nations League.

“I’m happy that I was able to help the team by doing what we strikers are supposed to, which is provide goals,” Alcacer said after Thursday’s match in Cardiff. “I just have to keep this good dynamic going.”

The 25-year-old Alcacer has been rejuvenated since leaving Barcelona on loan for Borussia Dortmund in August, a turnaround that has ended a hiatus from Spain’s national team that was in danger of becoming a permanent adios.

Previous to his two goals for Spain against Wales, Alcacer had scored seven times in a four-match scoring run for Dortmund. That streak included netting a spectacular hat trick that he completed on the last kick of the game for a 4-3 win over Augsburg.

Ironically, Alcacer’s slide toward oblivion at Barcelona began under current Spain coach Luis Enrique when he was condemned to a reserve role behind the superstar trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez in 2016-17.

Not even Neymar’s departure at the start of last season changed the situation at Camp Nou for Alcacer. Favoring other players, new coach Ernesto Valverde gave him fewer appearances than Luis Enrique.

So Alcacer decided that his best option was to leave Spain and try his luck in Germany.

And it turned out that Alcacer just needed a chance to play.

With his brace against Wales, Alcacer showed his leading quality as a striker. He is not the fastest, the strongest, nor the slickest passer; he is a pure goal scorer who excels at putting one-touch shots in-between the posts.

Against Wales, Alcacer fired a rising right-footed shot into the near corner for the lead- and his first goal with Spain since Oct. 2015. He then put the win beyond doubt by poaching a clearance in the area to make it 3-0.

“Alcacer is playing superbly because he is on a scoring streak, but overall his attitude has been marvelous,” said Luis Enrique, who called Alcacer up to fill the void left by the injured Diego Costa.

Alcacer was not supposed to need a comeback story.

Four years ago, former Spain manager Vicente del Bosque considered Alcacer, along with Alvaro Morata, as his strikers of the future. The then Valencia player led Spain in qualifying for the 2016 European championship with five goals, but when he struggled to score for his club in the run-up to the tournament Del Bosque dropped him from his squad.

Banished to the bench following his move to Barcelona from Valencia, Alcacer was also ignored by Julen Lopetegui in his two-year tenure that took Spain to last summer’s World Cup.

Circumstances, however, have put Alcacer in good position to now succeed for “La Roja.”

While competition remains fierce in the positions of midfielder and playmaker for Spain, the striker job is up for grabs.

Long gone are the days when David Villa and Fernando Torres flourished up front for the 2010 world champions, as both Costa and Morata have failed to show they can be counted on for goals.

Alcacer said that he had been preparing for this return to his best form.

“It’s about several things,” he said, “about getting on a hot streak, about self-confidence, about having playing time, and, above all, about working each day when you are not playing so you can be ready.”

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Change in attitude key for Luis Enrique’s revamped Spain

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MADRID (AP) After only two matches, Luis Enrique already knows the key to his early success as coach of Spain’s national team.

Enrique said the team’s approach in the impressive wins over England and Croatia in the UEFA Nations League is what made the difference for a revamped squad since he took over.

“What I liked the most in these 10 days was the players’ attitude on and off the field,” the former Barcelona coach said. “In only a few training sessions they were able to put our ideas into practice.”

Enrique spoke after Spain’s 6-0 rout of World Cup runner-up Croatia in the Nations League on Tuesday. Three days earlier, La Roja had come from behind to defeat England 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.

“It was a spectacular day. I couldn’t have imagined it,” Enrique said after the team overpowered Croatia. “But regardless of the score, what I saw in the players’ attitude was what was important. With this level of efficiency and with this quality that we have in front of the goal, it will be very difficult to stop us.”

Fans loudly chanted the coach’s name during Tuesday’s game in the southeastern Spanish city of Elche.

“I was a little embarrassed. It surprised me,” Enrique said. “I’m thankful, but I prefer that they cheer the players, they are the real protagonists.”

Enrique was announced as Spain’s coach in July following the team’s World Cup debacle, when the soccer federation fired Julen Lopetegui two days before the tournament and the team eventually was eliminated by host Russia in the round of 16.

His first contact with players came less than two weeks ago in training camp. He immediately imposed his energetic style in the practice sessions, and it translated onto the field in the first two matches.

Enrique had already taken action to bring the players together and build greater camaraderie within the group, including banning cell phones during meals so players could spend more time talking to each other. He also took the squad to an “escape room,” where players had to work together to solve puzzles and try to break out.

“I liked what I saw from the players the whole week,” Enrique said.

On the field, the coach also implemented important changes, making the team apply more pressure without the ball and playing a more direct game in attack, relinquishing the endless short passes that used to be a characteristic of Spain’s national team.

“Luis Enrique asks us to be very aggressive up front, to pressure and try to dominate, not giving the opponent any breathing room,” said Marco Asensio, who scored a goal and set up three others against Croatia on Tuesday. “We needed to get this sort of feeling back. We’ve put in two great performances.”

Asensio was the man of the match against Croatia but he didn’t even start against England. Iago Aspas played at Wembley and also performed well. Saul Niguez, who has become an undisputable starter for Enrique in midfield thanks to his versatility, also scored on Tuesday, as did Sergio Ramos, Rodrigo and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon.

Spain’s next match is a friendly against Wales on Oct. 11 in Cardiff. Four days later it will host England in Seville in the Nations League.

“Now we have time to analyze everything in more detail,” Enrique said. “There are things to improve despite these first two matches.”

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