BARCELONA (Reuters) - Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said now was the time to focus on positive things after his side qualified for the 2018 World Cup in style by blowing Albania apart 3-0 on Friday after a week of political turmoil in the country.
Spain has been reeling from the fallout of Sunday’s highly disputed referendum in Catalonia which produced images of police violence against would-be voters which shocked the world, while the country’s unity has also been thrown into doubt.
The chaos has spilled onto the football pitch and the national team, with Gerard Pique being booed at training sessions throughout the week after voting in the banned referendum, while the Barcelona defender received a mixture of support and boos from supporters in the game against Albania.
The political instability had little effect on the rest of the Spain side in Alicante, however, as they crushed their opponents with a terrific first half display characterised by short, slick passing moves and clinical finishing.
“Now is the time to focus on positive things, in football and in the country on the whole,” Lopetegui told reporters.
“Sport can lead the way in how we should be as a country and you have to celebrate the good things. We were jumping around and singing in the dressing room, celebrating a moment like tonight as you should.”
Rodrigo Moreno, Isco and Thiago Alcantara scored three goals in 11 minutes to set up a comprehensive win which was topped off with news from Rome that Italy had been held to a 1-1 draw by Macedonia, clinching Spain’s spot in Russia as Group G winners.
“Many things have happened but we’ve taken it day by day, focussing on the best interests of the team,” added Lopetegui, who has won eight out of nine competitive games since succeeding Vicente del Bosque as coach in July 2016, his side scoring 35 goals while only conceding three.
“I’ve been lucky to have players that have shown so much commitment and their impeccable attitude has helped a lot. We are delighted and proud of what we have achieved because it’s very important for Spain.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Rex Gowar