Euro 2024: Spain's secret weapon? The player who can't lose

Euro 2024: Spain's secret weapon? The player who can't lose

Published Jun. 15, 2024 8:51 a.m. ET

The prize for the most obvious statement of Euro 2024 has been decided already, and it goes to Spain's superstar midfielder Rodri.

When asked about the ideal state of mind for a team entering a major international tournament like this one, this was the response.

"The mentality," Rodri said, "is to win."

Er, yeah.


But before you dismiss the Manchester City serial medal winner's comments as being another bland statement from an athlete who'd rather be training, or getting coffee, or doing anything other than yet another media session, hold fire a minute.

Because when Rodri talks about winning, it takes on a different meaning. Because winning, well, that's just about all he does.

Before Manchester City stunningly lost in England's FA Cup final to hated rival Manchester United on May 25, Rodri, who will marshal Spain's defensive midfield efforts in Group B and hopefully beyond, had not tasted defeat, not a single time, for 14 months.

His remarkable stretch encompassed 74 games for club and country, going back to a loss for Spain against Scotland on March 28, 2023, in the early part of the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.

City was not perfect in that time, suffering three defeats on the way to claiming the EPL trophy for the fourth successive season and the sixth triumph in seven seasons. However, all of those minor setbacks took place when Rodri was either injured with a knee complaint or suspended due to a red card.

Even when City was eliminated from the Champions League by Real Madrid, both legs ended in draws, before Madrid advanced on penalty kicks.

Sometimes such things are a statistical quirk. And sometimes they're not.

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"I think it matters in this instance," FOX soccer analyst and former United States national team defender Alexi Lalas told me. "Form is fallacy, what someone does for club does not always translate.

"But this is an amazing tribute to the teams he plays on and how good they are. The biggest thing is that this guy knows how to win. That continues to be an underrated part of the game, because all try to complicate it a little bit. 

"We talk about certain skill sets and statistics and whatever, but the object of the game is to win. Rodri does it time and again, at an unbelievable level."

Spain begins its Euro 2024 campaign on Saturday in a juicy clash against World Cup semifinalist Croatia at Berlin's imposing Olympiastadion (noon ET on FOX), which will also host the final on July 14.

Also in Group B, already dubbed the Group of Death, is defending Euro champion Italy and a physical and talented Albania squad that should not be underestimated.

The holding midfielder role is one of the most important in soccer, despite rarely getting the kind of acclaim reserved for flashier positions such as strikers and more offensive midfielders.

Rodri is comfortable on the ball and allows others to shine with cutting passes and a natural understanding of controlling space.

There remains some uncertainty about what head coach Luis de la Fuente will do in midfield, the only assurance being that the middle will be run by Rodri and the precocious Barcelona youngster Pedri.

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Rodri is well aware that memories of Spain's glorious run where it won the 2008 and 2012 Euros, with a World Cup title in between, are fading.

"Our mindset is to return Spain to the highest level," he told reporters. "We will compete, and we have shown we are difficult to beat.

"We will give everything, knowing that the group stage will be tough. We are not looking past that but the objective is to win the Euro and bring back the competitiveness that has always characterized us.

"We have gone a long time without winning, and we need to do more. Spain is always a serious contender, and we are approaching this with great enthusiasm."

Spain saw its World Cup effort in 2022 fall apart in timid fashion, losing to Morocco on penalties in the round of 16 without managing to convert a single kick from the spot.

However, victory in the 2023 Nations League, beating Saturday's opponent Croatia on penalties in the final, was a welcome confidence boost.

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"We will form a competitive group and bring energy and desire," Rodri added. "What I try to offer is that we need to have a tight group, that is how you have success."

For a country with the pedigree of Spain, only one outcome is considered acceptable for a tournament of this kind of scale — to win it all. 

In chasing that goal, it doesn't hurt when your key figure is a player … who doesn't know how to lose.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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