Monday, 27 March 2023
Another game at La Rosaleda for the Spanish national team and another win.
Malaga is perhaps proving to be a lucky omen for La Selección, who felt very at home in the city this week.
After hundreds of fans welcomed them to the city on Friday, the players once again felt the warmth of the locals as they took to the field on Saturday to face Norway in their opening qualifying game for Euro 2024.
Almost 30,000 people, including thousands of Norway fans either resident on the Costa del Sol or who made the trip, made sure the game was a sell-out.
New coach Luis de la Fuente tore up the rulebook of his predecessor Luis Enrique for his first game by shaking up the squad, bringing certain players back in from the cold (Kepa, Iago Aspas, Mikel Merino, Mikel Oyarzabal...), and playing with a shape built around a centre forward again.
Atlético Madrid's Álvaro Morata may have started the game, but it was debutant Joselu, now of Espanyol, who eventually dealt the killer blows on Saturday night.
After Dani Olmo gave Spain the lead in fortuitous fashion early in the first half -deflecting Alejandro Baldé's mishit cross into the back of the net - Spain reverted to type, by maintaining possession, without pushing forward, against a side missing their main attacking threat in Erling Haaland.
Much of the pre-game enthusiasm around La Rosaleda petered out towards the end of the first 45, with repeated Mexican waves doing the rounds, showing the boredom of many fans around the ground. But De la Fuente sensed the mood and looked to his bench in the second half for the shot in the arm his side needed.
Dani Ceballos and Oyarzabal gave the side fresh impetus in midfield, driving the ball forward and providing link play between the lines, but it wasn't until 10 minutes from time when Joselu took to the field that the cherry was placed on top of the cake.
Almost immediately, the former Stoke City and Newcastle United man got on the end of a deep cross from fellow substitute Fabián Ruiz to head to ball back across goal and into the far corner.
He then repeated the trick a minute later with a poacher's goal from just a few metres out.
"I still can't believe it," said the 33-year-old following his perfect debut performance. "This is the best thing that can happen to a player. All the hard work every day has now paid off."
Next up for Spain is a trip to Hampden Park in Glasgow, where they will take on Scotland on Tuesday night (8.45pm kick-off).
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