COPENHAGEN • The good news for Spain came all at once, their five-goal rout of Slovakia last Wednesday steering them clear of an early exit and restoring hope they could even win Euro 2020.
Whether such optimism proves brief or longer lasting will depend on their last-16 outcome against Croatia today.
Victory in Copenhagen would give La Roja genuine momentum, representing the team's first quarter-final appearance at a major tournament since they were European champions in 2012.
"It's obviously a relief, not only for me, but what it means when you keep insisting on the same football ideas and you see you can get results with them," said Spain coach Luis Enrique. "The result comes at the best moment and it prepares us for what is to come."
The former Barcelona manager is hopeful that the celebratory bottle of cava has been "uncorked" by Spain's latest goal frenzy, although consistency remains a concern.
Spain beat Lithuania 4-0 in June before their goal-less Euro 2020 opening draw with Sweden. They also thrashed Germany 6-0 in November only to draw 1-1 at home to Greece. Croatia will be counting on a similar regression towards the mean while Spain have to prove Slovakia really was a release, rather than a one-off.
Pablo Sarabia was the outstanding performer against the Slovaks and he is set to keep his place today, as will Sergio Busquets.
After missing the first two Euro 2020 games because of a positive Covid-19 test, the Spain captain returned against the Slovaks, bringing poise to the midfield and leadership to a team who arguably lack the kind of assuredness that only comes with experience.
"He produced a textbook display in how to be a pivot, offensively and defensively," said Enrique.
Croatia appear to be growing into this competition themselves and in midfielders Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic, they possess the guile to match Spain's strength in the middle of the park. But the 2018 World Cup finalists yesterday suffered a major blow after it was confirmed they will be without one of their main men Ivan Perisic, on top of the one-game suspension for key centre-back Dejan Lovren.
Unless Croatia reach the July 11 final, the winger's tournament is over as he will have to spend the next 10 days in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.
"We are aware this could happen to any team at any stage of the tournament," the team's medical chief Sasa Jankovic said.
"The medical staff are doing everything in their power to stop the virus from spreading and rapid tests have confirmed that no one else is infected."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS