Spain 3-0 Italy: Isco blows Azzurri away with two fine goals
We went to the Santiago Bernabéu to see Marco Asensio, but what we saw was Isco. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. With two superb first-half goals, he blew Italy away in a game that had threatened to be a tight affair: his first a free-kick bent into the top corner, his second a sweetly struck shot tucked right inside Gianluigi Buffon's post. Two precision hits, one with each foot. Incidentally, the foul that led to the opener came after a defence-splitting Andrés Iniesta pass for Asensio, who ran into the natural habitat of the number nine that wasn't there, and was upended by Leonardo Bonucci. Having lined up without an out-and-out centre-forward, Spain instead sought to get men arriving from deep, leaving the Italians' central defenders without a reference point - and that's how the first goal came about.
Isco magic wins it for Spain, Piqué again jeered by minority
But to be honest, yesterday was really just a case of Italy being dealt a hammer blow by two clinical Isco moments. We hadn't been so far superior to the Azzurri in our all-round play as to expect to be two to the good before the break. We hadn't threatened Buffon's goal much more than Italy had that of David de Gea, who had to save a point-blank header from Andrea Belotti. But closely-matched games are won by pieces of magic, and it was Isco who conjured them up. After his second, there was a sense that Russia was in sight. Indeed, Spain felt so confident that for a period in the second half they became a little dull, and the minority who had whistled Gerard Piqué at the start (and had been shouted down by the chants of the majority in support of the player) made themselves heard once more. Idiots.
Morata rounds off the win, returning Villa gets a run-out
Julen Lopetegui injected renewed impetus by putting on Álvaro Morata for Iniesta, who departed to an ovation. With Italy looking to attack, Morata's ability to drive at the visitors on the counter proved a key weapon, and on one such break he extended the winning margin by burying an inch-perfect pass from Sergio Ramos, who had joined him on the forward foray. At 3-0, the home crowd implored Lopetegui to bring on David Villa, whose introduction was nearly thwarted by the clock: it took a while for a break in the play to arrive, and when it did it was an Italian free-kick, leading Spain's ever-prudent coach to delay the change further. But he got on in the end and, with Isco the man making way, it was a swap that almost brought the house down. So, a successful night for Spain, and qualification is all but in the bag.