Lopetegui passes Albania test with the spotlight on Piqué

Lopetegui passes Albania test with the spotlight on Piqué

All’s well that ends well. Spain ran amock in a brilliant half an hour and were solid for the rest of the match to reach the World Cup. That’s it. We thought ‘goal difference’ would decide who qualified from the group, but Italy’s draw with Macedonia on Friday put an end to any suspense ahead of the last round of matches. Spain qualify thanks to a magnificent performance throughout the group phase, and it could have arrived earlier. Spain deserved to win in Italy but the victory proved elusive, I still can’t explain how. But maybe it is better things transpired as they did. The match against Albania proved useful on a number of levels.

Lopetegui passes Albania test with the spotlight on Piqué

Lopetegui prevents injuries affecting Spain

Lopetegui passed the test. Albania were not a formidable rival, but they are the ‘best of the rest’ in Group G. Matches like this can be difficult to navigate. Spain faced up to this one with several important absentees, some of which affected the structure of the team. Sergio Busquets, the cornerstone of the team, was missing. Dani Carvajal, Iniesta, and Álvaro Morata were also out due to unforeseen problems picked up on Sunday. And the ‘Piqué case’ sat on top of that, and this time, it was aggravated. It is no longer about a proverbial ‘lack of prudence’ when it comes to discussing Real Madrid, where so much ink has already run. Last night he was at the centre of a national issue, one in which he has made himself present, with opinions divided.

Lopetegui passes Albania test with the spotlight on Piqué

Rodrigo and Odriozola impress

A marvellous half an hour provided the response to all of that. Isco turned in a stellar performance, accompanied by David Silva, who has become the vintage element in the team, maintaining the aroma of ‘that’ Spain team of recent years. So many others, including two new faces, performed well too. Rodrigo, who was an important figure in the Under-21s in his day, and Álvaro Odriozola, an elegant and industrious full-back who laid down a marker with his performance. The match quickly surged to 3-0, with three precious goals. The whistles directed towards Gerard Piqué, which were never overwhelming, dissolved discretely. It was half an hour of excellence, followed by a controlled match. It was football giving another moment of happiness to a country that needs it.