Spain moved top of their UEFA Nations League group with an impressive 2-0 win over Czech Republic in Malaga, taking advantage of Portugal’s defeat in Switzerland.
Portugal were unexpectedly beaten by Switzerland 1-0, meaning that La Roja would take top spot with a victory.
Despite some sloppy Spanish passing giving the Czechs several chances, Spain dominated the first half and eventually took a deserved lead.
In the 24th minute, Marco Asensio ran onto a lofted Koke pass and pulled it back for Carlos Soler to score.
Two minutes later, the same pair almost combined for a second goal, and Spain were humming as they have not done in this international period.
Spain finished the first period with 77.25% possession and the Czechs completed fewer than 100 passes. The home side had 450.
The Czechs improved in the second half and carved out a few chances.
They besieged the Spanish goal for a long stretch, but the timely introduction of Ferran Torres and Gavi with half an hour to play wrested back the initiative for Spain. The substitutes played their part as Spain sealed the points with a brilliant sweeping move which culminated in Pablo Sarabia’s second goal in as many games.
It was an end-to-end move in which virtually every Spanish player had a touch, but it was Gavi’s brilliant run across the halfway line – in which he effortlessly beat two defenders – that turned up the heat. Barcelona’s young star passed to Dani Olmo who flicked it wide with his first touch, finding Ferran Torres who, in turn, crossed for Sarabia to score.
There were still 15 minutes remaining but the intensity quickly dissipated after Spain’s second goal. A week after a dire performance in Prague, Spain sit atop Group A2, with a playoff place in their own hands.
TALKING POINT – GAVI’S MAGNIFICENT CAMEO
The 17-year-old only played 30 minutes in Malaga but he was sensational.
His was the vital contribution to Spain’s decisive second goal – a slalom run that eliminated two defenders – and his every touch raised the pulse.
He won fouls easily, beat defenders effortlessly, and raised the quality of his star-studded team-mates’ performance from the moment he stepped on the pitch.
Gavi has enjoyed an excellent international period. He was man of the match in the 2-2 draw against the Czechs last weekend, and played well again in Switzerland in midweek, but this was his best display yet and the adoring home crowd loved every second of it.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – MARCO ASENSIO
Marco Asensio made the most of his recall to the Spain starting lineup for the first time in two years with a starring performance against the Czechs.
His tireless running helped sap the visitors’ energy, opening spaces for himself and his team-mates.
He also worked hard without the ball, notably winning back possession in his own box midway through the first half.
Asensio was rewarded with an assist – his eighth for Spain – for Soler’s opener and he could easily have had more than one if his team-mates had finished a little better.
His deep cross to Gavi in the second half was a great example of his spatial awareness and flawless technique.
His seven assists under Luis Enrique are more than any other Spain player.
Spain: Unai Simon 5, Alonso 5, Martinez 6, Garcia 6, Carvajal 6, Koke 7, Rodrigo 7, Soler 7, Olmo 8, Asensio 8, Morata 5. Subs: Torres 7, Busquets N/A, Gavi 8, Alba N/A, Sarabia 7.
Czech Republic: Mandous 7, Zima 6, Brabec 6, Jemelka 6, Coufal 5, Sadilek N/A, Soucek 7, Zeleny 6, Cerny 6, Kuchta 7, Pesek 6. Subs: Kalvach 6, Hlozek 7, Jurecka 6, Tecl 6, Kral N/A
18′ BIG SAVE UNAI SIMON – A careless pass from Marcos Alonso gives the Czechs a golden opportunity and Vaclav Cerny gets a sharp shot away but Unai Simon gets down low to deny him the opener.
20′ SPAIN SLICED OPEN AGAIN – Jan Kuchta runs onto a through ball from behind halfway and races towards the box. Only Eric Garcia is anywhere near him, but Simon stays big and denies Kuchta with a strong save.
24’ GOAL SPAIN! – Koke plays a lovely chipped pass into the box and Marco Asensio controls with one touch, spins and whips his pass back across goal for the late-arriving Carlos Soler to rifle home from close range.
28′ SOLER ALMOST DOUBLES UP – Asensio’s magnificent control wide on the right gives Carlos Soler time to race into the box. Asensio plays the perfect pass and Soler takes it around one defender but scuffs his shot under pressure and it’s a goal kick.
75’ GOAL SPAIN! – An end-to-end passing move in which virtually every Spanish player touches the ball, eventually finds Gavi near halfway who easily eliminates two defenders and plays it on Olmo who flicks it wide with his first touch, finding Ferran Torres who, in turn, crosses for Sarabia to score.
82′ OLMO ALMOST MAKES IT THREE – The Leipzig star races onto a loose back pass but Mandous smothers the chance. The rebound falls to Sarabia who tries to curl it into the top corner. He misses, but not by much.