x

Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

Spain rally behind De Gea as questions swirl over goalkeeper's form ahead of crunch Iran World Cup match

De Gea endured an evening to forget in Spain's opening match against Portugal on Friday

An error from Spain goalkeeper David de Gea saw a shot from Cristiano Ronaldo squirm from his grasp and into the net for the Portuguese forward's second goal in a 3-3 draw. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
An error from Spain goalkeeper David de Gea saw a shot from Cristiano Ronaldo squirm from his grasp and into the net for the Portuguese forward's second goal in a 3-3 draw. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

Spain players are rallying behind goalkeeper David de Gea as they prepare for their second group game at the World Cup against Iran in Kazan on Wednesday.

De Gea endured an evening to forget in Spain's opening match against Portugal on Friday, committing a howling error to allow Cristiano Ronaldo to score his second goal on the way to a hat-trick in the 3-3 thriller in Sochi.

Ronaldo scored from all three of Portugal's attempts on target against De Gea and suddenly new manager Fernando Hierro has found himself having to defend the 27-year-old Manchester United goalkeeper.

"We don't doubt him and he doesn't doubt himself either," said Hierro after Spain kicked off their Group B campaign.

"I embraced him. We know goalkeeper is a special position, with a special psychology, and we have no doubts. Honestly," added Hierro, hastily promoted to the role as manager last week after Julen Lopetegui's shock sacking on the eve of the tournament.

On the whole, the Spanish performed well in their first outing, especially considering the upheaval of the days before the game, and the underwhelming results of the other pre-tournament favourites put the Portugal draw in a more positive light.

But De Gea's form has to be a matter of real concern.

It was his error that gifted Switzerland a goal in a 1-1 friendly draw just before Spain departed for Russia, and now - after one game - they have already conceded one goal more than in the whole of their triumphant 2010 World Cup campaign.

Iker Casillas was in goal then, the legendary Real Madrid shot stopper who De Gea succeeded and to whom he will always be compared.

"Only those of us who put on the gloves and go out on the field know how difficult it is," the man himself said. "The coach is with me, it was an error and these things can happen."

______________

Read more on World Cup 2018:

Isco hopes Spain 'score quickly' ahead of World Cup date with destiny against Iran

Day 6 live updates: Salah-led Egypt to mount serious challenge against Russia

Lowdown: Blogs, guides, predictions, podcasts, galleries and where to watch in UAE

Download: Get The National's official World Cup wall chart

______________

It is not the first time De Gea has found himself in the eye of a storm at such a time - shortly after being promoted to the role of first-choice goalkeeper for Euro 2016, he found himself embroiled in a sex scandal.

There were allegations that he had organised a party at which two women were forced to have sex with two footballers, although he was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

The affair resurfaced recently when Pedro Sanchez, the new Spanish Prime Minister, came to Spain's training camp to give a speech before their departure for Russia.

De Gea refused to applaud the Socialist leader, remembering criticism from Sanchez.

Spain's sports press have not been slow to criticise the 30-times capped goalkeeper for his recent blunders, but Hierro's squad have given him their backing.

"He is fine. Nobody likes making mistakes. He is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world," Spain playmaker Isco said.

In any case, De Gea, who is said to be close to signing a lucrative new contract at Old Trafford, seems safe in his position for now.

Napoli's Pepe Reina has been a back-up for more than a decade now, while Athletic Bilbao custodian Kepa Arrizabalaga has just one cap.

De Gea will hope to repay the faith in him against Iran as Spain bid to take a big step towards qualifying for the last 16.