Ruthless Rodri crushes Georgia’s fairytale and keeps Spain on track | Jonathan Wilson

Estimated read time 5 min read

Nothing in football is certain, but Rodri is perhaps as close as it’s possible to get. There are times when it seems he is the teacher stepping in to a kids’ game to make sure it doesn’t become too one-sided, the grown-up who doesn’t have to bother with the things like running. He just strolls about, delivering accurate pass after accurate pass and, occasionally, scoring vital goals.

This was Rodri’s 89th game since Manchester City lost 1-0 at Tottenham in the Premier League on 5 February 2023. Since then he has lost only twice. If you take out games in which Scott McTominay was on the opposing side, he hasn’t lost at all. Quite why McTominay should be his kryptonite is unclear, but rivals should as a matter of urgency isolate whatever the active component is and start trying to manufacture it synthetically. Until Georgia’s legs went in the second half, they were excellent on Sunday but for that one vital absence: they lacked a McTominay.

The most striking thing when Georgia took the lead was the noise. Not the roar, ecstatic as that was. It was the moment just before the euphoria when you could detect a little gulp, a little gasp, the audible disbelief of a crowd who couldn’t quite believe what they had seen – elongated, perhaps, because the ball, cannoning in off Robin Le Normand’s midriff, had a slightly looping trajectory – but it was one of those silences that means more than the loudest roar.

From then on, every challenge, every save from the exceptional Giorgi Mamardashvili, was roared by fans who seemed to know that this couldn’t last but were determined to make the most of it while it did.

By the 25-minute mark, Spain had 86% possession, 19 touches in the opposition box to Georgia’s none and nine shots to Georgia’s none, but they trailed 1-0.

Yet the longer it went on, the less unthinkable the impossible began to seem. Georgia’s front two of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Georges Mikautadze looked dangerous, repeatedly tearing at the Spain defence, relishing the space they had. Which was where Rodri was vital. Spain continued to allow their full-backs to advance but Rodri sat in, a breakwater in front of the two central defenders. Even if he didn’t win the ball, he disrupted the surge sufficiently that others could regain possession.

At the other end, chance after chance was squandered – or kept out by Mamardashvili. The sense of disbelief in the Georgian cheers began to fade. Maybe this was possible. Maybe they could do to Spain what they had done to Portugal. But then, just as it seemed Mamardashvili would never be beaten, Nico Williams cut the ball back for Rodri and he – the adult on the pitch – calmly dispatched his shot into the corner.

He is a sober, serious winner; he has no time for your fairytales.

Just as he got the winner in the 2023 Champions League final against Internazionale, just as he broke Sheffield United hearts with a late goal at Bramall Lane last August, just as he scored the vital equaliser at Chelsea in February, so he extinguished Georgian hopes on Sunday evening.

Perhaps Álvaro Morata, who was in an offside position as he skipped out of the way of the shot, would be deemed to be interfering?

skip past newsletter promotion

Certainly the Georgians seemed to think he was, although he was not directly in the line of sight of Mamardashvili. But the video assistant referee wasn’t going to interfere with Rodri; his authority is too great for that. And so, six minutes before half-time, the scores were level and, as a result, the game was in effect done. Holding on had been Georgia’s chance, and it was gone. Sure enough, Spain wrapped up the victory with three goals in the second half.

They had been the most impressive side in the group stage, the one doubt being whether their familiar failing of dominating games without taking their chances had truly been jettisoned under Luis de la Fuente. They had, after all, outplayed Italy, registering 20 shots but scoring only through an own goal, and their second string had then scored from only one of 17 shots against Albania. Just how much could a leopard truly change its spots, even if Williams and Lamine Yamal give them a directness even their greatest sides often lacked?

This, perhaps, was an answer. Williams’s goal, Spain’s third, was a warning of what can happen if a defender is isolated against him; teams effectively have to double up on him and that, of course, creates space elsewhere. Lamine Yamal’s cross for the second showed why you can’t give him time.

But for all the excellence of the two young wingers, at the heart of this side still lies a bedrock of the old Spain, the capacity to hold the ball and move the ball, playing in eternal rondos. It is embodied by Rodri, who attempted 117 passes on Sunday evening and completed 93% of them, whose heat map showed him essentially occupying a space in the centre of the pitch between the halfway line and about halfway up to the edge of the box, controlling the game through presence and intelligence.


You May Also Like

More From Author