The search for cutting edge from some form of attacking focal point is nothing new and Álvaro Morata excelled with Nolito scampering busily in support. Spain’s sense of balance in the team, with the usual foundation of endless, dizzying, passing triangles embellished with the sharpened lines to goal on top, made for an impressive mix.
A Turkey team criticised by their manager, Fatih Terim, for “throwing in the towel” was unable to halt Spain’s comfortable procession to the tournament’s latter stages. A draw against Croatia in the final Group D game in Bordeaux next Tuesday will be enough for the reigning champions to top their section.
They move on in buoyant mood. Yet to concede a goal and enjoying some sparkling connections up front, they mean business. “It is not worth anything having a good move and not scoring,” mused Vicente del Bosque afterwards, reflecting on how good it felt to add end product to their progressive passing.
“We have had our first objective completed to qualify for the next round, we did it with a good performance, controlling the game for 90 minutes and scoring goals which we haven’t done recently, so it was perfect,” he said. “We are on a good path but we haven’t won anything. This is just the group stage and there is still a long way to go.”
Del Bosque selected the same lineup in successive games for the first time in 52 matches. Blending new talent to replace some of the departed greats has been the aim but it was no surprise to see Andrés Iniesta running the show with a masterclass to provide the platform that allowed some of the less experienced players to express themselves.
The new faces in attack relished the opportunity to take over. Morata and Nolito took leading roles and tore into Turkey. They played with a zest that gave Spain an edge. Their eagerness to take advantage of a Turkey team who struggled for composure of their own shone through.
Terim was almost satisfied that Turkey clung on for half an hour but then lamented individual errors that invited Spain to do the damage. Frankly it felt as if Spain’s class would click sooner or later and, when it did, a chasm opened up between the two sides. A blur of football that showcased a mix of high-tempo creativity and efficiency helped Spain into a two-goal lead over three thrilling minutes.
First Morata rose to glance Nolito’s cross expertly past Volkan Babacan. It was the kind of goal that epitomised the art of great heading. Then a weaving move left Turkey’s defence discombobulated, Cesc Fàbregas provided a delightful scooped assist and, when Mehmet Topal got his clearance in a muddle, Nolito seized the moment to steer the ball confidently in on the turn.
Spain extended their lead early in the second half. There was a fraction of fortune as Jordi Alba was offside when he received a sumptuous ball from Iniesta delivered with a nonchalant flick of the outside of his boot. Alba helped the ball across for Morata to drill unerringly past Babacan. A couple of minutes later Morata arced another superb header in search of his hat-trick but the ball drifted wide.
With Turkey by now comfortably beaten, the platform for Iniesta to exhibit his mastery was something to behold. Just about every gossamer touch, every subtle shimmy, every exact pass was a perfect little work of art.
In stark contrast the Turkish crowd turned on Arda Turan and began booing his touches. His Barcelona team-mate found it hard to watch. “It is a difficult situation for a player to experience the whistles of your own fans,” said Iniesta afterwards. “It leaves a bad taste in the mouth for me for Arda. I know he is a player of great talent and quality. I told him I wished him the best for the rest of the championship.”
Terim was also unimpressed and felt the situation had a negative impact on the team. “Nobody deserves it,” he said, before turning his attention to how to try to salvage something from the tournament with a final game against the Czech Republic. “As a player, a coach and in my personal life I never throw in the towel. I never give up. And I never walk with those who throw in the towel and give up. Today our national team threw in the towel. I didn’t like it. I will never accept it. You can be sure I will do the necessary thing.”
It has not been an uplifting tournament for Terim and his team. The Turkish supporters sang lustily at the end and hurled flares. Spain, though, are calm and controlled and able to accentuate the positives as they look forward.
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