Leeds United defender Diego Llorente sends Spain message after painful Euro 2020 exit at hands of Italy
Leeds United defender Diego Llorente says Spain's painful Euro 2020 semi-final exit on penalties at the hands of Italy will benefit Luis Enrique's team.
Llorente endured a difficult and stressful first season at Elland Road, suffering a series of injury set-backs before eventually regaining fitness and ending the season on a high as the Whites claimed a top 10 spot in the Premier League.
His preparation for the summer's major international tournament was no less difficult or stressful. The centre-half tested positive for Covid-19, along with fellow defender Sergio Busquets, as Spain s camp was thrown into disarray. The pair, along with the rest of the squad, had to self isolate and an Under 21 side was drafted in to play the warm up friendly against Lithuania.
Enrique called up several players, including Leeds striker Rodrigo, to form a parallel bubble in case they needed to draft in replacements, but there was no outbreak. Llorente subsequently tested negative and was allowed to rejoin the squad, while Busquets completed his isolation period and resumed his place in the set-up.
That was as dramatic as it got for Llorente on a personal level. The 27-year-old was on the bench for all but one of Spain's six Euro 2020 games, missing out altogether against Slovakia, and did not see a minute of tournament action.
For Spain as a team, however, it was a thrilling tournament. They beat Croatia 5-3 after extra-time in the round of 16, needed penalties to squeeze past Switzerland after 1-1 draw and then levelled late against Italy to take the semi-final into extra-time.
Spot-kicks were required once again and both Dani Olmo and Álvaro Morata were unable to convert as Italy took their place in Sunday's final at Wembley, denying Llorente a potential reunion with Leeds team-mate Kalvin Phillips of England.
The defender was upbeat in a message he posted following Spain's defeat, however. He believes there is a lot to be proud of and plenty of reason for optimism.
"We say goodbye to the Euro with our heads held high and with the conviction that we are getting better and stronger than we have arrived," he said.
"We have been at the gates of the final and that will help us to grow and look to the future with optimism."
Llorente will be one of seven players who will return late to Marcelo Bielsa's pre-season, having been involved in the tournament. The majority of the Whites squad returned for pre-season testing last Thursday at Leeds Beckett's Carnegie School of Sport.