Diego Llorente snuffed out Cristiano Ronaldo and Leeds United defender is unique option in Spain's Euros bid
Leeds United had seven players representing the Whites at this summer’s Euros.
Some going for a newly-promoted side.
Given the right results over the next two days, the Whites could even have two players in the final through Kalvin Phillips and Diego Llorente should England and Spain emerge triumphant from their last-four battles.
Phillips looks certain to be a key cog for the Three Lions in tomorrow night’s semi-final against Denmark having started all five games of his side’s Euro 2020 so far.
Llorente, meanwhile, has yet to play a single minute for Luis Enrique’s Spain side.
But there are strong arguments to suggest that the Whites centre-back should be handed a chance in an attempt to shore up a side whose defensive record is in stark contrast to tonight’s opponents Italy’s, having already leaked in five goals so far.
Enrique’s side ensured progression to the quarter-finals despite conceding three times against Croatia as part of an epic 5-3 victory which Llorente watched from the bench.
Even without kicking a ball, Llorente’s Euros have been highly eventful as the defender was forced to leave camp when testing positive for Covid-19 in the run-up to his side’s opening group-stages encounter.
But four negative tests over the coming days followed which allowed Llorente to return and the centre-back was given a guard of honour upon his return to training.
Llorente’s Spain debut came back in May 2016 and seven more caps have followed in the five years since.
The Whites defender was particularly impressive when playing the full duration of the international friendly against Portugal in Lisbon last October in which he kept tabs on Cristiano Ronaldo throughout.
But Llorente then suffered an untimely groin injury and, whilst two more outings have followed since, Aymeric Laporte’s emergence has essentially provided a new obstacle to his bid for minutes.
Agen-born former France Under-21s international Laporte switched international allegiances to Spain just in time for this summer’s Euros and the Manchester City defender has proved Enrique’s main go-to man at the heart of the defence.
The 27-year-old has played every minute of all five of Spain’s games at Euro 2020 so far and has been paired with two different partners at centre-back.
Villareal’s Pau Torres was given the nod for Spain’s first two group-stage games, a 0-0 stalemate against Sweden and 1-1 draw against Poland for whom Robert Lewandowski out-jumped the defence for the equaliser.
The result left Spain’s qualification for the last 16 in the balance and Eric Garcia then came into the side alongside Laporte for a centre-back axis of former Manchester City team-mates for the group-stage finale against Slovakia in which Enrique’s side romped to a 5-0 victory.
Laporte had an outstanding season with City as they reclaimed the Premier League title and there is no doubt that he is Spain’s No 1 centre-back.
Garcia, meanwhile, has just signed for Barcelona having rejected City’s offer of a new deal.
Following the rout of Slovakia, boss Enrique again went with Laporte and Garcia as his centre-backs for the last-16 clash against Croatia but the Spanish defence looked anything but tight.
Firstly, goalkeeper Unai Simon failed to control a Pedri back pass which led to 20th-minute Croatia opener.
Spain stormed back to lead 3-1 with 13 minutes left, by which time Torres had replaced Garcia at the back.
But Spain’s defensive unit failed to clear an almighty goalmouth scramble that led to Mislav Orsic pulling a goal back in the 85th minute and Mario Pasalic then ghosted past Torres to head home a 90th-minute leveller to take the game to extra time.
It left Spain needing further strikes from Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal to progress
A quarter-final against Switzerland was next, for which Torres replaced Garcia as Laporte’s centre-back partner from the start.
But this time a mistake from Laporte led to Xherdan Shaqiri netting the equaliser for a 1-1 draw and this time Enrique’s side needed spot kicks to keep a turbulent bid for glory going.
Just about every Spain centre-back has blotted their copybook in some shape or form at this summer’s Euros, apart from Llorente who has yet to be given a chance.
Should Enrique opt to make another change, the Leeds defender is the obvious unused option waiting in the wings.
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Thank you Laura Collins