Robert Moreno’s shuffled Spain side came away with the expected victory last night, although the 4-0 scoreline suggested a little more gloss than was actually in evidence. Sergio Ramos and Rodrigo Moreno were the only starters retained from Thursday’s victory over Romania, with Spain lining up: de Gea; Carvajal, Ramos, Hermoso, Gayà; Rodri, Thiago, Parejo; Suso, Rodrigo, Oyarzabal. Sergio Ramos now has 167 caps, equalled only by Iker Casillas. Barring injury, he should break the all-time record against Norway next month.
There was a pre-match tribute to Quini, the former Sporting Gijón and FC Barcelona striker, who passed away last year. Former coach Luís Enrique, himself from Gijón, had earmarked this match as an opportunity to play in Quini’s spiritual home and thus pay respects. In a remarkable career, Quini was a five-time pichichi, the top scorer in La Liga, won two Copa del Reys and a Cup-Winners Cup with Barça, and represented Spain in three major tournaments, including the 1982 World Cup, which they hosted. He also passed into legend as the victim of a 25-day kidnapping in 1980, from which he emerged unscathed and later demonstrated an incredible level of forgiveness towards his captors. The most fitting tribute would have been a clinical performance from a number nine, which did, belatedly, arrive.
Spain started on the front foot, with the visitors pinned in their own half in their 5-4-1 formation. Thiago, the most lively presence throughout, forced his way through a couple of challenges in the 13th minute, allowing Oyarzabal to square for Rodrigo, who opened the scoring. The absence of VAR meant the goal went straight onto the scoreboard, despite a reasonable degree of doubt over two possible offsides. 1-0.
The early goal did nothing to help the tempo of the game, which settled into a leisurely pace with Thiago alone injecting any urgency into proceedings: a camera-friendly volley was parried by Nielsen, Rodrigo should have done better with the Bayern man’s cross, and he had a header of his own drift past the post as half time approached. For their part, the islanders had a couple of forays into Spanish territory, a tame effort from Bjartalid drawing a save from the idle de Gea. This was not the kind of match that is going to help him reclaim the number one jersey from Kepa.
Neither coach made any changes at the break, but Robert Moreno clearly encouraged his charges to prevent the match from continuing in the same vain. Spain looked re-energised a play resumed, with Rodrigo in particular making more runs into the channels from his centre-forward position. The Valencia man drew a save from Nielsen with barely a minute on the clock, while Suso shaved the post seconds later. They weren’t to be denied, though, with more good running from Rodrigo on 50 minutes gaining him the space to get a shot away. Fortune smiled as the ball fizzed off Vatnsdal’s thigh and flew into the top corner. 2-0.
If this encounter was a golden opportunity for the forwards to stake their claim for a place in the EURO 2020 squad next year, then Oyarzabal and Suso will be disappointed with their performance. They were replaced by Alcácer and Sarabia as Moreno sought to convert his side’s domination into goals.
It may seem like faint praise to describe the Faroe Islands as plucky, but that is what they were, and they may even rue not cutting the deficit on 73 minutes. The opportunity fell, once more, to Bjartalid, after poor positioning from Ramos meant he found himself clean through on goal. His left-footed effort was decent, but de Gea had narrowed the angle well to save with his feet. Ramos got his standing ovation on 84 minutes, replaced by the debutant Unai Núñez.
Nobody expected the visitors to be mounting and attack at this stage of the game, and they deserve credit for it. However, the guile of Paco Alcácer means that this will ultimately be filed as another in the long list of heavy defeats for the Faroese. As the clock approached 90 minutes, Thiago was once more incisive, exchanging passes with Rodrigo and Carvajal before crossing for Alcácer, who expertly opened his left foot to guide the ball into the far corner. Barely two minutes later, Gayà spotted the Dortmund man weaving between the stationary defenders, their minds perhaps already on the voyage back to the archipelago, and picked him out. Alcácer’s glanced header inevitably found the net: two touches, two goals from beyond the front post, and a striker’s instinct that Quini would have been proud of.
Matías Vargas shines for Argentina under-23s
Espanyol’s star summer signing, Matías Vargas, started for the Argentina under-23 side for the second time in the space of four days . They came back from a goal down to win 3-1 against Colombia yesterday, with Vargas scoring their second goal from the penalty spot, having seen his original effort blocked by a hand. He will now travel back to Barcelona to join up with his teammates, and David Gallego will have to assess whether he is ready to play this weekend against Eibar.
That’s it for today, next time we’ll reflect on what we’ve learned about the Spain squad over the international break, and look forward to the weekend, as Espanyol players start to return from international duty. Cheers!