Steady Spain seal Euro berth

Vicente del Bosque guided his Spain side to a place in next year’s European Championship finals this week with a routine win over Luxembourg and a slightly less straightforward victory in Ukraine.

A 4-0 stroll past Luxembourg in Logrono last Friday meant the reigning European champions qualified as group winners to set up the prospect of a third straight title win in the finals in France next summer.

Santi Cazorla opened the scoring three minutes before the interval and Paco Alcacer struck twice in the second half before Cazorla grabbed his second five minutes from time. Iker Casillas’ clean sheet meant Spain had not conceded in 633 minutes of competitive football – a record for La Roja.

Del Bosque will have been concerned by first-half injuries to David Silva and Alvaro Morata at Las Gaunas, adding to an already crowded treatment room. With Spain already having secured their ticket for EURO 2016, however, it was an unfamiliar line-up that took the field to face Ukraine in the final group match in Kiev.

Villarreal full-back Mario Gaspar, making his debut, headed in Thiago Alcantara’s cross at the back post on 22 minutes. Home goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov saved a poorly-struck penalty from Cesc Fabregas – making his 100th appearance for Spain – three minutes later, but Spain hung on for a narrow win that saw them top the group with a five-point margin ahead of Slovakia.

Unsurprisingly in view of the injuries and myriad team changes, Spain’s performance in Kiev was far from convincing. They dominated possession but often looked vulnerable to the counter-attack. When Ukraine did break through, however, they found David de Gea in fine form. Further opportunities for the Manchester United man seem assured as Casillas fades from view.

In spite of their disastrous early exit from last summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil, Spain were expected to win the group at a canter, even without many of the stars who had delivered earlier successes. Del Bosque’s side duly responded with a 5-1 hammering of FYR Macedonia in their opening qualifier in Valencia.

For much of the early stages of qualifying, however, Spain were looking over their shoulder at Slovakia, who sprung an early shock in Zilina by inflicting La Roja’s only loss in the group and a first defeat in 36 qualifying matches over an eight year period.

Del Bosque’s men bounced back well with convincing wins over Luxembourg and Belarus, while the Coach continued to bring new players into his squad. Debutant Juan Bernat scored the fourth in the 4-0 victory in Luxembourg while Isco, yet to establish himself at international level, opened the scoring against Belarus.

Morata’s first goal for Spain saw La Roja edge past Ukraine 1-0 in a close fought encounter in Seville and David Silva ensured victory over Belarus by the same score to reward del Bosque with his 100th win in charge. Despite those two narrow wins, Spain upped the tempo to defeat Slovakia 2-0 in Oviedo, avenging that earlier defeat by Slovakia and displacing them at the top of the group.

Spain never looked back after climbing into first place and, although they to be some way short of the form that saw them dominate the last two European Championships, and without many of the players that delivered success there, it would be rash to discount their chances of a Euro treble next summer. 

La Liga - Club News