A Sergio Ramos record and little else against Norway
The fixture to mark Sergio Ramos’ national record of 168 caps for Spain against Norway was little more than that in the end. With seconds left on the clock it seemed that Roberto Moreno’ side had sealed automatic qualification for the Euro 2020 finals but it was snatched away at the death by a Norway side who, if we are being honest, deserved the point. Spain, who attacked and attacked in the first half, switched off noticeably after opening the scoring at the start of the second and began to hand the opposition the ball and the pitch. Norway are not a great side, and even less so when Martin Odegaard is played out of position where he is unable to inflict as much damage, but they hit long balls and are prepared to run. And it was one of these moves that led to the penalty, conceded by Kepa.
It was a fair punishment for Spain, who did not play particularly well either when Norway were sitting back and waiting or when they adopted the same approach after finding the net. Moreno’s starting XI, made of 11 players representing different clubs, which is a rarity in itself, found its front line of Rodrigo, Mikel Oyárzabal and Dani Ceballos completely isolated. The midfield of Fabián, Sergio Busquets and Saúl, who scored Spain’s goal, functioned well enough in moving the ball about but they couldn’t find any holes in the closed ranks of Norway’s defence and throughout the first half only found support from one of their full backs, Jesús Navas. Juan Bernat only got forward at the beginning of the first half but his one decent connection with Ceballos led to Saúl’s strike.
Fabián and Albiol present their credentials
After that, it was much ado about nothing. A pair of wonderful efforts from Fabián that rattled the post and the bar provided two sparks in an otherwise poor second 45 from Spain, characterised by losses of possession bringing the ball out from the back. Some good news for Spain was Raúl Albiol, who cleaned up a couple of mistakes from Ramos and advanced his cause to be the captain’s permanent partner as Moreno continues to audition for the role vacated by Gerard Piqué. Ramos will miss the game against Sweden after being booked, giving someone else the chance to state their case alongside Albiol. It was a nervous and soft performance from Spain, in which the only pride that can be gleaned is from the way Norway celebrated the draw.