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Lopetegui’s Spain have the wind in their sails


Spain racked up goals and re-instilled faith. Lopetegui named practically the same starting line-up as he did against Belgium last week, suggesting that his intention is not to try to give everyone some playing time but to consolidate a team, something that I think is a good idea. But Julen Guerrero, speaking on the radio show Carousel de la SER, said that an extra winger in place of a midfielder would have been a better choice and he was proved right as the game went on. In the first half, Spain scored a goal from a set piece – through Diego Costa, which is excellent news – but struggled to create much else. Silva and Vitolo stood out from the rest but they had problems breaking down the dogged and intense Liechtenstein defence. The opening 45 minutes were tough going and boring.  

At half time Lopetegui replaced Thiago, who’s been poor in both games, with Nolito. Sergi Roberto moved into midfield and Spain defended with three at the back. The goals kept coming, and just as well; they are absolutely crucial. Only one nation from the group will qualify for the World Cup; the second will have to try their luck in the play-offs. If Spain and Italy finish the group on level terms the initial tie-breaker will be goal difference, not the head-to-head record. Last night, a match-up against a team from a country of just 37,000 people, was an opportunity not to be wasted. A crushing win was a must. Lopetegui surely thought of that at half time. 

Diego Costa scored another. Morata – who replaced him – scored two more. Silva also scored two, plus another that the linesman ruled out. Vitolo enjoyed himself, as did Sergi Roberto, a survivor of a failed generation of young Barcelona players coming of age after the golden years. Everything went well. The fans in León who last year booed Gerard Pique this year applauded him. Diego Costa will rest easy after getting back on the scoresheet. Vitolo consolidated his position in the squad and Asensio banished any talk of playing for the Netherlands, if there ever was any, by making his competitive debut. Over in Israel, Chiellini was sent off. Everything ran like clockwork. Next up: Italy