By Martyn Herman

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) – Impressive Spain have secured top spot in Group B and a place in the last 16 of Euro 2024 but they will not be taking their foot off the gas against Albania in Duesseldorf on Monday.

While coach Luis de la Fuente has the luxury of being able to rest players for the final group game, he will also want to maintain the momentum Spain have built up.

“We’re still a long way off winning the European Championship. We haven’t yet achieved anything. Okay, we’ve won some important matches. We have wonderful prospects,” De la Fuente said after his side outclassed holders Italy.

“But football can also be very cruel. So we need to be cautious. We need to be humble. We need to show respect.”

Coaches are often reluctant, in public at least, to saddle their players with lofty expectations, but De la Fuente has not been slow in coming forward, describing his squad as the best in the tournament, if not the world.

On the evidence so far he has a point. Spain have looked the slickest outfit on display so far and have shortened the odds on them winning a record fourth Euros title.

The likes of teenager Lamine Yamal, winger Nico Williams and fellow 21-year-old Pedri all produced dazzling displays against Italy while striker Alvaro Morata, defender Dani Carvajal and midfielder Rodri provide invaluable tournament experience.

With their last-16 game against a third-placed team from Group A, B, C or D not until July 2, De la Fuente may decide that resting key players against Albania could disrupt the rhythm of his side and effect their sharpness.

He will be forced into at least one change, however, with Rodri suspended after picking up yellow cards in Spain’s opening two games — his caution against Italy coming after breaking new UEFA rules about approaching a referee.

Albania will expect no favours from Spain as they seek the unlikely win they need to reach the knockout phase for the first time having exited in the group phase on their debut in 2016.

A last-gasp goal secured a 2-2 draw with Croatia to keep their hopes alive and their Brazilian coach Sylvinho has instilled a sense of belief in his squad.

“What I promise to the Albanian people is that we will fight for every point,” the former Arsenal midfielder said.

“Against Spain it will be difficult but we must enjoy these moments.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)

Brought to you by