Spain has been displaying an impressive performance with four consecutive victories at Euro 2024, setting the stage for a highly anticipated quarterfinal clash with host Germany on Friday, which feels like a 'final before the final'. The team has transitioned from the possession-focused 'tiki-taka' style that led them to World Cup and back-to-back European Championship victories over a decade ago, to a fiercely attacking strategy under the guidance of manager Luis de la Fuente. This shift might have surprised many fans, but players like midfielder Mikel Merino saw it coming.

'We've known each other for a long time. It is probably the tightest group I have been in and I think this is our main strength - the brotherhood and team spirit,' Merino told Reuters on Wednesday. 'We are all focused on the main goal which is to win the Euros. Nobody here is selfish. We all want the team to succeed, that's what makes us truly a great team.'

Merino's description of the bond within Spain's team is not overstated: more than half of their squad in Germany have previously worked with De la Fuente in the national academy system. Their dominant performances at the tournament are the result of a long-term project that De la Fuente has been developing for a decade as head coach of Spain's youth teams before taking charge of the national team.

'It is a huge advantage for us,' Merino said. 'I have been in here with Luis Enrique. But this is different for us players... He knows all of us. And the main thing is that we know him. We know what he wants, we know the style of football that he likes to play, we know the character that he requires.' This deep understanding gives them a significant edge, creating a chemistry typically seen only in club football.

Spain has been playing with relentless high pressure, combined with quick one-touch moves and precise passing, creating an impression of a team where each player intuitively understands the positioning of his teammates. On Friday, Merino will face familiar opponents. He played in two consecutive Under-21 Euro finals against Germany under De la Fuente, losing in 2017 but winning 2-1 two years later against a team including Jonathan Tah, Benjamin Henrichs, and Waldemar Anton, all of whom are in the Germany squad he faces in Stuttgart on Friday.

Mikel Oyarzabal, Dani Olmo, and Fabian Ruiz, who was named MVP of the tournament in 2019, are also at Euro 2024. Merino won his first international tournament with De la Fuente in 2015, playing alongside Rodri and goalkeeper Unai Simon in a 2-0 win against Russia to take the Under-19 Euro title in Greece. From veterans to younger members like Pedri, Martin Zubimendi, and Marc Cucurella, key players in De la Fuente's squad that won the Olympic silver medal in Tokyo 2022, they are all aligned.

'I have a lot of great memories about playing against Germany. I've been lucky enough to play against them a lot of times over the years, winning or losing, playing them it’s something that make you feel your blood pump stronger in your veins,' Merino said. 'We know we are going to face maybe our toughest challenge yet. They are a well-organised team and will have the support of a packed arena. It's going to be tough. But our mentality is our biggest strength. We are strong together, we believe in each other and this is what we want: playing against the best, beating the best.'