BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — With a slight feint and a burst of speed down the right flank, Adama Traore plainly showed exactly how his pace, power and technical skills can help Spain’s national team.
And it was precisely that unique combination of breathtaking talent that coach Luis Enrique had wanted to see.
“Adama was Adama at his best,” Luis Enrique said after the Wolverhampton Wanderers forward made his debut for his country in a 0-0 draw at Portugal.
“He has an enormous capacity to get past rivals,” the Spain coach said. “We changed the way we played to get more passes to him. He is a specialist in one-on-one situations. It doesn’t matter if he is defended by one, two, or three rivals, he is able to put in crosses and create advantageous situations.”
The 24-year-old Traore provided Spain with its best weapon once he made his international debut in the 62nd minute on Wednesday. Even Portugal defender Nelson Semedo, Traore’s teammate at Wolves, knew what was coming but couldn’t stop it. Traore still surged past him to the end line and slid the ball to the heart of the area, where Dani Olmo forced Rui Patricio to make a save.
Traore also showed his strength when he was called for a foul after his shoulder nudge sent Portugal winger Francisco Trincão crashing to the turf.
Traore was born in a working class suburb of Barcelona and trained at FC Barcelona’s youth academy. But with no chance of becoming a first-team starter, he left for the Premier League.
Sports daily AS covered its front page with a photo of Traore in his white Spain shirt with the headline “Spain has muscle.” Both AS and rival sports daily Marca ran comparisons of Traore’s physical change from when he started at Barcelona as a skinny teenager compared to now.
Traore said Thursday that his formidable build was due to genes and hard work, not from lifting weights.
“There is work (behind this physique),” he said. “As a professional I always train and work out to prevent injuries, but I don’t lift weights per se. I don’t need to because thanks to my genetics I put on muscle very fast.
“I have been working for a long time and I work every day to improve,” Traore added. “For me, a day that I have stayed the same is a day wasted.”
For a decade, Spain picked apart defenses with its tiki-taka passing attack, winning two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup. The players weaved the ball between the midfielders, forwards and wing backs until the hole appeared to score.
But with the aging and eventual international retirements of David Villa, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta, Spain was unable to replace them with the same passing talent that the system needed to work. The result was a disappointing World Cup in Russia two years ago when Spain dominated the ball but couldn’t produce goals.
Luis Enrique took over the team after that tournament knowing he had to change the model and overhaul the squad. Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets are the only holdovers from those championship years. Around them, Luis Enrique has been trying out players to create a winning group.
Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno appears to be in the running for the attack, but Traore’s debut has offered Luis Enrique a speedster who can thrive in open space. The only previous Spain player to offer that element of speed was Jesus Navas, who has prolonged his career as a wingback, but not even he had the knack for taking on opponents that Traore has developed.
Ansu Fati could be another key part of the new Spain. The 17-year-old Barcelona winger became the youngest scorer in the history of the national team in a 3-0 win over Ukraine in the Nations League last month. Fati is also excellent at dribbling past defenders and has scored three goals for Barcelona in three matches so far this season.
With Fati on the left, Traore on the right, and Rodigo Moreno in the middle, Spain can now mount an intimidating counter attack, giving the team more flexibility.
Fati did not play against Portugal. He will likely be back in the lineup for Nations League matches against Switzerland on Saturday and at Ukraine on Oct. 13.
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