Illarramendi breaks the boredom


Spain finished off their brilliant qualification for the Russia World Cup by beating Israel in Jerusalem by the minimum scoreline in a game that had little to write home about. Illarramendi scored a belter to seal another win for Lopetegui’s side.

The national side had already earned their right to have a relaxing evening, having sealed their berth to the 2018 Russia World Cup with Friday’s victory over Albania. Knowing they were through, Lopetegui set up a starting XI with many new faces, even giving Jonathan Viera his international debut. With so many new faces, and so little at stake, the game looked more like a training session than anything else.

Israel, it has to be said, were not much of an opponent, certainly not enough for Spain to have to activate their emergency plan. It is a fact that Spain have not lost even as much as one game in their triumphant march through this qualification stage, or in any other since 1993. And that fact carries a lot of weight, a lot. The players who took to the field did so with the idea of keeping that run intact, and not going down in history as the ones who, owing to lack of effort or a slovenly attitude, were the ones who would let the record go to waste.

With all these ingredients, and playing somewhat wearily, Spain took the reins of the game and tested the Israeli goalkeeper a couple of times. The first was a shot from Sergio Ramos from outside the area and later a one-on-one in which Pedro was through, but the Chelsea forward somehow was unable to resolve properly. It was not a great performance in the first half, and that is something usually annoys coaches.

For the second half, given that his words had fallen on deaf ears, Lopetegui sent out Isco to put a little order in the side. Spain recuperated that, and regained control of play. Illarramendi’s strike came from a corner, put Spain ahead and put an end to any dreams Israel, who were looking for a draw, may have had.