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Brilliant Isco leads Spain show of dominance over Italy

Spain’s two-goal hero Alvaro Morata

Two brilliant strikes from Isco and a late goal from Alvaro Morata gave Spain a spectacular 3-0 win over Italy, their nearest challengers in Group G, to move into the driving seat for automatic qualification to the 2018 World Cup.

Real Madrid attacking midfielder Isco, who was deployed in a “false nine” position as a deep-lying striker, curled a free kick beyond the reach of veteran Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to put Spain ahead in the 13th minute.

Isco then received the ball on the edge of the area and danced past a defender before cracking a low shot into the near bottom corner which again proved too quick for Buffon five minutes before halftime.

Substitute Morata crafted a superb counter-attack with Sergio Ramos to start and finish the move for the third goal which he slotted past former Juventus team mate Buffon 13 minutes from time, rounding off Spain’s best performance against Italy since their 4-0 win in the Euro 2012 final.

“I’m very satisfied with the players’ response since I’ve been here, their mentality and commitment is excellent. Perfection doesn’t exist, but we played a great game tonight,” Spain coach Julen Lopetegui told reporters.

“You can always improve but it’s hard to ask how today. We understood the importance of the game, and we have to thank the fans for how they created an atmosphere like the ones we’ve seen in Paris and Wembley. We felt their presence.”

Spain top Group G on 19 points, three ahead of Italy and seven clear of Albania, who beat basement side Liechtenstein 2-0 on Saturday while Macedonia pulled off a surprise 1-0 victory at Israel.


The continued absence of top scorer Diego Costa and the explosive form of Marco Asensio compelled Lopetegui to imitate his predecessor Vicente del Bosque and play without a recognised striker, a move which paid off to perfection.

Italy, shorn of influential defender Giorgio Chiellini and fielding four forwards which left little presence in midfield, lacked the intensity needed to counter Spain’s passing machine.

Isco may have given Spain their firepower but they created chances from all areas, with Dani Carvajal, Gerard Pique and Ramos all not far from scoring in the first half, while Italy’s only effort was a header from Andrea Belotti which David de Gea saved.

“Today there was a huge difference between the two teams’ level of quality and fitness, and when you consider those differences there’s no point talking about the result,” said Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura.

The coach would not criticise his captain Buffon for his slow reaction to Isco’s free-kick, and said Spain were a far more experienced side than his.

“Many of Spain’s players have played in three Champions League finals, there’s hardly anyone in our team on that level.”

Isco further delighted the 85,000 supporters in his home stadium with an outrageous nutmeg through the legs of Marco Verratti in the second half which nearly lead to Carvajal scoring.

The third goal came from ever reliable substitute Morata, who was denied a second late on by the offside flag.

Summaries from the World Cup Qualifying European matches on Saturday
Saturday, September 2

Wales 1 Ben Woodburn 74
Austria 0
– – –
Israel 0
Macedonia 1 Goran Pandev 73
– – –
Spain 3 Isco 13,40, Alvaro Morata 77
Italy 0
– – –
Ukraine 2 Andriy Yarmolenko 18,42
Turkey 0
– – –
Georgia 1 Valeri Qazaishvili 34
Ireland 1 Shane Duffy 4
– – –
Serbia 3 Mijat Gacinovic 20, Aleksandar Kolarov 30, Aleksandar Mitrovic 81
Moldova 0
– – –
Albania 2 Odise Roshi 54, Ansi Agolli 78
Liechtenstein 0
– – –
Finland 1 Alexander Ring 8
Iceland 0
– – –
Friday, September 1
Czech Republic 1 Vladimir Darida 78
Germany 2 Timo Werner 4, Mats Hummels 88
Halftime: 0-1;Attendance: 18,093
– – –
Norway 2 Joshua King 32pen, Rashad Sadygov 60og
Azerbaijan 0
Red Card: Badavi Guseynov 90
Halftime: 1-0;
– – –
San Marino 0
Northern Ireland 3 Josh Magennis 70,75, Steven Davis 77pen
Halftime: 0-0;
– – –
Denmark 4 Thomas Delaney 15, Andreas Cornelius 42, Nicolai Jorgensen 59, Christian Eriksen 80
Poland 0
Halftime: 2-0;
– – –
Romania 1 Alexandru Maxim 90+1
Missed penalty: Bogdan Stancu 55
Armenia 0
Red Card: Taron Voskanyan 54
Halftime: 0-0;Attendance: 27,000
– – –
Lithuania 0
Scotland 3 Stuart Armstrong 25, Andrew Robertson 30, James McArthur 72
Halftime: 0-2;Attendance: 5,000
– – –
Malta 0
England 4 Harry Kane 53,90+2, Ryan Bertrand 86, Danny Welbeck 90+1
Halftime: 0-0;Attendance: 16,994
– – –
Slovakia 1 Miha Mevlja 81og
Slovenia 0
– – –
Kazakhstan 0
Montenegro 3 Marko Vesovic 31, Fatos Beciraj 53, Marko Simic 63
Halftime: 0-1;Attendance: 16,511
– – –
Next Fixtures (GMT):
Sunday, September 3
Belarus v Sweden (1600)
Netherlands v Bulgaria (1600)
France v Luxembourg (1845)
Faroe Islands v Andorra (1600)
Hungary v Portugal (1845)
Latvia v Switzerland (1845)
Estonia v Cyprus (1600)
Gibraltar v Bosnia (1845)
Greece v Belgium (1845)
Monday, September 4
Azerbaijan v San Marino (1600)
Germany v Norway (1845)
Northern Ireland v Czech Republic (1845)
Armenia v Denmark (1600)
Montenegro v Romania (1845)
Poland v Kazakhstan (1845)
England v Slovakia (1845)
Scotland v Malta (1845)
Slovenia v Lithuania (1845)

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