Spain, national team football in general, has the hallmark of appearing on the calendar at the most inopportune moments. It is no different this time. The national team returns to the competitive arena once the majority of fans have spent their biggest cries and sighs. There is still a hangover from the Champions League final. And, in reality, what people are already doing is in the entrances and exits, in knowing what their teams are going to do in the transfer market.

It would be different if this were a normal year, and what I expected now was a World Cup like the ones of a lifetime. There the world would have been paralyzed and the staff would be analyzing and twisting the list of 25 summoned by Luis Enrique last week (24, after Thiago’s withdrawal was announced yesterday for not having overcome the muscular ailments that he had dragged on since before the Champions League final).

But since the pandemic few things are normal, also in the world of football, and what there is now are four consecutive games in the group stage of the Nations League, a competition created by UEFA to put an end to inconsequential friendlies and that to Luis Enrique is an incentive: “If we now had four friendlies this would be a torpor,” he admitted. “Of course you think about the holidays, but we know what is coming very soon, which is something as big as a World Cup. We like this competition and it motivates us.”

Spain’s affection for the tournament began last year, where it starred in some of its most beautiful moments in recent times. That was the 6-0 defeat of Germany at La Cartuja, the match that made Ferran Torres the most effective scorer for this team and that qualified the national team for its first Final Four. There, Luis Enrique’s men once again demonstrated that, despite his youth, they are capable of defeating any team. They made believe that any goal is possible. They defeated European champions Italy in the semi-final, taking revenge for the ill-fated exit from Wembley on penalties, only succumbing in the final to the France of Benzema, Mbappe and Griezmann after a dubious VAR intervention.

The Nations League embarrassment begins today at the Benito Villamarín against Cristiano’s Portugal. A duel that should mark the development of the group. Then will come the duels against the Czech Republic in Prague (June 5), Switzerland in Geneva (June 9) and the final match, again against the Czechs in Malaga (June 12). In just eleven days almost everything is played. After the summer, the last two games of this group stage will remain: against Switzerland in Zaragoza (September 24) and against Portugal in Braga (September 27). Those will also be the final rehearsals before the World Cup. Few tests already, and fewer and fewer gaps to fill in the final call: «The players are not stupid and they know that the list is always open. There will be surprises before the World Cup,” the coach harangued yesterday.