Ferran Torres’ first-half strike earns second-string Spain victory against Albania

Proud display by the Albanians in their first European championships

Spain's forward Ferran Torres celebrates scoring. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty
Group B: Albania 0 Spain 1

“Many people claimed they would put four past us in the first game, five in the second, and we wouldn’t show up for the third,” Sylvinho had said, but Albania did show up: in the stands and on the pitch, as they have done throughout their time here. They had come to enjoy this and they had come to compete too. And so they did: going at Spain, this competition’s most impressive team, giving everything and getting beaten, yes, but by no more than more illustrious footballing nations. A solitary strike from Ferran Torres did it.

Going through to the second round was beyond Albania but they always knew that. They knew it when they were put in a group with Italy, Croatia and Spain and they knew it by the time they arrived in Düsseldorf. The fact that Spain were through might have offered a glimpse of hope but Sylvinho had said that even the seleccion’s B team could play the final, and still be favourite. But they came and they played.

Already through as group winners, concerned above all with opportunity and rest, Aymeric Laporte was the only member of Spain’s initial line-up to have started a game. Between them, the 11 had played just 250 minutes. David Raya, officially still on loan at Arsenal, was among those getting his first, meaning that there were two Brentford goalkeepers out there. At the other end was Thomas Strakosha, completing an Albania staring XI made up of men playing in England, Spain, Russia, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Czech Republic and South Korea.

With players born in nine different countries, Albania are the most international of teams here; they are also a bold one, a side that scored after 23 seconds against Italy, late against Croatia and went for Spain here.


For a short while, attacking their fans, where the smoke rose up towards the roof, they appeared determined not to let Spain out. The problem was that it was a short while, and almost as soon as Spain did get out, it was decisive. Dani Olmo’s clever pass released Torres, coming in from the right, he swept the ball past Strakosha and that, it seemed, was that.

Olmo was enjoying this, taking control, always seeming to find the right space. So too were Mikel Merino and Martín Zubimendi behind him and the full-backs. Jesús Navas and Álex Grimaldo may not have the aggressiveness, the edge, that little hint of nasty that Dani Carvajal and Marc Cucurella do but boy can they deliver. Navas, at 38, just keeps on running. Before the goal he had already delivered a glorious cross from which Merino might have scored, his header stopped by Strakosha. Almost immediately, another deep ball saw Joselu head over.

There were flashes from Albania, and there were good moments with the ball, but they were few. There was a brief moment of silliness too when Raya kicked it into the face of Laporte but Spain had taken charge now. And then, just before half-time, their best moment came when Raya had to dive to stop Kristjan Asllani’s well-struck shot from the edge of the area. Spain though dominated, a comfort and confidence to it all.

On the left Grimaldo was getting ever more involved, sought out often and early and you could see why. The quality of his delivery was deeply impressive, even if Berat Djimsiti and Arlind Ajeti were doing a decent job of minding Joselu. From one lovely, high, curling ball in, Ferran probably should have scored a second but headed over. From another, this time pulled back across the floor, Merino certainly should have, but his sliced shot flew over.

As soon as the second half began, he put in another one. This time Joselu connected with an acrobatic volley that had a touch of the Zlatan about it and flew just past the post. That would have been some goal; what followed would have been even better, a blocked shot from Asllani seeing Olmo suddenly burst from deep, right through the middle and have a go from inside the centre circle which, despite a glimpse of the keeper fractionally out of his goal, never properly took flight.

Albania weren’t going to give up and there was a huge roar when Armando Broja was introduced. It didn’t take long for him to almost score, either. Spain had switched off, caught by Asllani’s quick free-kick and suddenly, there was Broja standing alone before Raya. The ball sat up and he struck it well enough but Raya made a superb save. A minute later, Asllani had a shot blocked, the volume rising again. And then Robin Le Normand took out Broja as he threatened to race through.

Not long after that, Asllani struck a fading shot just past the far post. Time was running out and they needed two goals to have any chance of progressing yet still they roared and still they ran, pursuing something else, not just a place in the next round. All the way to the last minute when Broja drew another save from Raya in the din. That task was too big but they had known that from the start and they resisted reality to the end, leaving early but leaving noisily and proud. – Guardian