Spain show their best side to swat Albania aside and book berth to Russia


Lopetegui’s side beat Albania 3-0, excellent debut from Odriozola, Rodrigo and Thiago net for the first time

Although the bookies’ odds were on Spain winning, few expected a victory with such perfect football and such a crushing domination. Not for a long time had the national side played so well as a team, or been so superior and, above all so impressive. The 3-0 final scoreline against Albania could have been a lot higher but, more than just the goals, the way they did it was impressive.

· Summary and stats from the Spain vs. Albania clash

In a match in which the players barely put a foot wrong (perhaps a couple of wobbly moments in defence that gave Xhaka and Llullaku hopes of scoring), Lopetegui’s gambles in choosing his line-up came off perfectly. Álvaro Odriozola, winning his first full cap having just been promoted from the U-21s, put on an excellent performance at the Rico Pérez. He owned the wing and took part in each of the three goals that Spain scored in the first half hour.

The opener was from a player who had not worn ‘la Roja‘ for some time: Rodrigo Moreno. In what was only his second-ever appearance in the national team shirt, the Valencia striker chested down a ball slipped in by Isco, spun, and sent a half-volley over the goalkeeper and into the far top corner to get off the mark as a goalscorer for Spain. Another who was not going to go home empty-handed was Isco who, after assisting Rodrigo, received an assist from Koke in the area and lashed the ball past the hapless Berisha. Shortly afterwards, Thiago Alcántara scored his first-ever goal in twenty-three appearances for the full national team with a thumping header. The first half hour had gone by like a dream, the best thirty minutes’ play seen in the Lopetegui era, and probably better than at many other times too.

The game cooled down a lot in the second half. The result, as it stood, was good enough for Spain, Panucci’s team were not looking like they were going to score, and only when Piqué (who is suspended for the Israel game) was replaced by Nacho did the crowd get excited, some to whistle and jeer at the Culé player, while others showed their appreciation.

Macedonia lend Spain a hand

Spain needed to earn more points than Italy in order to qualify mathematically and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia turned out to be Lopetegui’s side’s best ally last night. Italy were unable to get anything more than a draw against Igor Angelovski’s team, even though on paper at least they were vastly superior. After missing many chances, despite not playing very much, Giampiero Ventura’s side watched helplessly as Trajkovski hit an equaliser for the Balkan team, making it 1-1 with only ten minutes left to go. With that result, Spain can now breathe easily: mission accomplished. The game against Israel is now merely an academic exercise.