By Richard Martin
SEVILLE, Spain (Reuters) - Spain were looking forward to staging a festival of football in their Euro 2020 opener against Sweden as they basked in the Seville sun and a fervent atmosphere but after a frustrating 0-0 draw they turned on the ramshackle La Cartuja stadium.
Spain made a tournament record 917 passes but lacked killer instinct and coach Luis Enrique was quick to blame the dry surface at the stadium.
"The pitch didn't help us, I saw players of the highest quality struggling to move the ball around and in the dressing room the players were complaining about it too," he told Spanish network Telecinco.
"We need to have better conditions to play our brand of football better."
La Cartuja, which was built to host the 1999 World Athletics Championships, was given the four Euro 2020 matches to be held in Spain after Seville was chosen by UEFA to replace Bilbao as a host city two months before the tournament began.
Authorities in the Basque Country were uneasy about letting supporters attend matches due to COVID-19 concerns while there was also little enthusiasm about hosting the national team in a region with a large separatist movement.
Seville, the birthplace of flamenco and where passion for the national team runs high, was seen as a far more suitable city to host Spain games than Bilbao.
But the derelict La Cartuja, where fans are separated from the pitch by a running track, looks like a far from suitable venue, especially compared to Real Betis' Benito Villamarin or Sevilla's Sanchez Pizjuan.
The 60,000-capacity ground is located on the outskirts of the city far from any bars or facilities, meaning supporters were left to congregate under a motorway before the Sweden game in order to shelter from the scorching sun.
La Cartuja had barely been used for football since hosting the 2003 UEFA Cup final but has been given a new lease of life in the last year by the Andalusian regional government.
It hosted Spain's 6-0 win over Germany in the UEFA Nations League in November and was awarded the Spanish Super Cup final in January after the competition was moved back to Spain from Saudi Arabia.
It also hosted the 2020 and 2021 Copa del Rey finals, while in February the Spanish soccer federation struck a deal with the regional authorities to stage 24 games involving Spain's senior team, Under-21 side and women's team in Andalusia the majority of which will be held at La Cartuja.
Regional sports councillor Javier Imbroda hailed the move as a chance to reinvigorate La Cartuja, saying "it's about time we bet on this stadium".
The European Championship matches and the four-year deal will make the stadium appear less of a white elephant but unless investment is made in the ground and its surrounding area, it will remain an unpopular venue for supporters and teams alike.
(Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)