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Asensio takes Real Madrid fans' minds off the 'Cristiano crisis'


Spain sail through dangerous opener against Macedonia

What a start to the European Under-21 Championship for Spain! An opening match we feared as a potential banana skin ended up in a thumping victory. At the same time, though, Macedonia showed that it had been a far from absurd notion to paint them in such a light. They play very good stuff, and have a sterling generation of youngsters. Eight of them were in the senior side that visited Spain in World Cup qualifying in November. They weren't involved in the recent return in Skopje, because the preference was not to risk them and to keep them back for this tournament. They headed to Poland with high hopes. They've suffered a major reverse in the opener, because La Rojita displayed immense cutting edge, but actually played pretty well.

Saúl celebrates his spectacular opening goal for Spain on Saturday night.
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Saúl celebrates his spectacular opening goal for Spain on Saturday night.MACIEJ GILLERTAFP

Macedonians made to pay by ruthless Spain attack

While taking a lot of risks, it must be said. They went forward in numbers, pushing their full-backs up and populating the central areas. They're good on the ball and, in David Babunski, have a fine puller of the strings, but by pressing so many into attack left themselves exposed on the counter, which Spain pounced on ruthlessly. Macedonia bossed possession; Spain bossed the scoreboard. The tone of the clash was in evidence early on: the Macedonians had dominated the first ten minutes and given Spain a tough opening period, when a quickfire break was rounded off by a spectacular Saúl Ñíguez overhead kick. From then on, we saw the same dynamic: Macedonia took care of the ball nicely; Spain hit them with clinical attacks.

Asensio grabbed a hat-trick in Gdynia.
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Asensio grabbed a hat-trick in Gdynia.MACIEJ GILLERTAFP

Asensio the outstanding talent in quality La Rojita side

After all, Spain also have an excellent crop, one that bodes well for the full side. Despite their age, many of them already have plenty of top-level experience with their clubs. And, of course, the stand-out man is Marco Asensio, who boasts power, quality and a real eye for goal, either from range (his first, a howitzer from ten yards outside the box, is a bona fide Puskas Award contender) or from runs into the danger area. It's such a good side that they were able to bring on the likes of Iñaki Williams and Dani Ceballos as substitutes. We'll have to see how the Euros pan out, but a statement has been sent out. Spain have installed themselves as the team to beat right away, as a virtuoso Asensio took Madridistas' minds off the 'Cristiano crisis'.