MADRID (AP) — As Spain struggled against Georgia, coach Luis Enrique said he felt like he was about to have a heart attack on the sidelines.
Spain was coming off a disappointing home draw against Greece a few days earlier and appeared to be on its way to another setback that would leave “La Roja” winless to start its World Cup qualifying campaign.
Its chances of securing an automatic spot for next year’s World Cup in Qatar would suddenly be in jeopardy even though it had only played against some of the easier opponents in Group B.
A goal by Dani Olmo two minutes into stoppage time on Sunday salvaged a 2-1 victory that left the team two points behind Sweden at the top of the group, bringing some much-needed relief for Luis Enrique.
But the coach expects more problems ahead for Spain, including on Wednesday against Kosovo, the least experienced team in the group.
“I’m worried going into the match against Kosovo, I’m very worried,” Luis Enrique said. “If we don’t have our best game, or the right precision or finesse, we will have to win it with our hearts or our minds. Spain has to be in the next World Cup. We don’t even consider not making it.”
Luis Enrique appeared to be overly concerned considering that Kosovo is playing in only its second World Cup qualifying campaign after having earned only one point in the first one. It lost to Sweden 3-0 at home on Sunday in its only group game so far this year.
Spain, meanwhile, entered its qualifying campaign as the favorite in the group, ahead of Sweden, which opened with consecutive victories as Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to international soccer after almost five years.
But Spain’s lackluster performances in its opening matches gave Luis Enrique motive to be worried.
The team controlled possession but struggled to get through its opponents’ tight defensive scheme.
“We already know that our opponents are not making it easy and that they all have quality, even these national teams from different levels,” Luis Enrique said. “We are suffering more against these types of national teams than when we play against Switzerland or Germany or Ukraine.”
Spain routed Germany 6-0 in the Nations League in its last match last year.
“This is soccer and we have to accept it,” Luis Enrique said. “But I am really worried going into the game against Kosovo.”
The coach revamped the team’s lineup after the game against Greece but couldn’t get them to play much better against Georgia. They failed to create many significant chances up front and looked vulnerable at the back.
“Maybe this was the game in which we suffered the most from start to finish,” Luis Enrique said. “But that ending was worth it. I’ll take the suffering if in the end we win. But it’s true that the concern about our qualification was there, and it will continue to be there because we won’t face any easy enemies.”
Only the 10 group winners qualify directly for the final tournament in Qatar, with the runners-up having to participate in a playoff next March.
Luis Enrique also had to answer questions after the match about his decision to leave captain Sergio Ramos off the squad.
“It was a technical decision, Sergio was fit to play,” he said. “I know that anything related to Sergio Ramos will cause controversy, whether he plays five or 90 minutes. I’m used to that.”
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