Spain sent a strong message to the rest of the European continent that they are back after thrashing Croatia 6-0 in UEFA Nations League action on Tuesday night at the Estadio Martinez Valero in Elche.
Goals from Saul, Marco Asensio, Rodrigo, Sergio Ramos, Isco and a Croatia own goal made for a night that evoked memories of La Roja age of dominance from 2008-12, while it will be a night to forget for the World Cup runners-up.
One would be hard-pressed to pick out a man of the match for La Roja, such was the decisive and complete performance from the hosts. Asensio was certainly one of the stars with a goal and three assists, as was Dani Ceballos who was superb in the Spanish midfield and helped make Luka Modric a non-factor. All in all, this new-look Spain under Luis Enrique continues to impress and now owns a hefty six-point advantage over Group 4 rivals England and Croatia.
Luis Enrique made three changes from last Saturday’s win at Wembley with Gaya replacing Marcos Alonso in defense, Dani Ceballos for Thiago in midfield and Marco Asensio up top instead of Iago Aspas.
Croatia’s good start
Croatia actually enjoyed a very good start and after Ivan Rakitic came close in the opening minutes, Ivan Santini had a clear-cut chance to break the deadlock after some good work from Sime Vrsaljko, but the Anderlecht man narrowly missed the mark. Minutes later it was Dani Carvajal making a last-ditch stab at the ball to block an Ivan Perisic shot from close-range.
Twenty minutes in Croatia eased off the pressure and it allowed Spain to get their feet wet in attack, resulting in the game’s first goal. Ramos flighted an inch-perfect diagonal ball down the right wing to Carvajal, who crossed for Saul and the Atletico Madrid man thumped in the header for a 1-0 lead.
While the first goal was a showcase of Spain’s passing acumen, the second was down to the raw power and talent that Asensio offers, A wayward Mateo Kovacic pass for Rakitic went right to Asensio, and the Real Madrid man unfurled a swerving, dipping shot that went rocketing into the back of the net to make it 2-0.
Asensio in the role of playmaker
Asensio was feeling it and in the blink of an eye he had Spain up 3-0 after firing a curling left-footer that banged off the crossbar, hit the back of the head of Croatia goalkeeper Nikola Kalinic and bounced in for the goal. Asensio was back at it in the second half, this time in the role of playmaker and again Spain carved up the Croatia defence playing between lines ending with Asensio filtering in a ball to Rodrigo, who finished past Kalinic for a 4-0 lead.
Croatia were a complete shell of the team that reached the World Cup final and their resignation was on full display when Ramos was left completely free to head in Asensio’s corner kick, giving Spain a 5-0 lead.
Spain could just sit back in a rocking chair and play to their liking the rest of the way, such was the lack of resistance from Croatia. The spaces in the Croatian half were gaping wide open and Isco was happy to take advantage, receiving an Asensio pass, taking a touch and smashing in a right-footer to make it 6-0 scoreline.
It could have easily been seven or even eight for Spain if not for a combination of bad luck and some heads-up goalkeeping from Kalinic. Nevertheless, this new Luis Enrique era will have Spain supporters far and wide feeling optimistic each day that Euro 2020 grows closer.
6- Spain: De Gea, Carvajal (Azpilicueta, min. 75), Nacho, Ramos, Gaya, Busquets (Rodri, min. 59), Saul (Thiago, min. 65), Ceballos, Asensio, Isco, Rodrigo Moreno.
0- Croatia: Kalinic, Pivaric, Vida, Mitrovic, Vrsaljko (Rog, min. 20), Brozovic (Pjaca, min. 63), Rakitic, Perisic, Modric, Kovacic, Santini.
Goals: 1-0, min. 24: Saul; 2-0, min. 33: Asensio; 3-0, min. 36: Kalinic (og); 4-0, min. 49: Rodrigo; 5-0, min. 57: Ramos; 6-0, min. 70: Isco
Referee: Benoit Bastien (France). Yellow Cards: Santini (Min. 13) for Croatia, Brozovic (Min. 38) for Croatia Red cards: None
Stadium: Martinez Valero