Brilliant Isco leads Spain show of dominance over Italy
Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata also among the goals in World Cup qualifier in Madrid
Spain’s midfielder Isco eyes the ball during the World Cup 2018 qualifier against Italy at the Santiago Bernabeu. Photograph: Getty Images
Spain 3 Italy 0
Two brilliant strikes from Isco and a late goal from Alvaro Morata gave Spain a spectacular 3-0 win over Italy, their nearest challengers in Group G, to move into the driving seat for automatic qualification to the 2018 World Cup.
Real Madrid attacking midfielder Isco, who was deployed in a “false nine” position as a deep-lying striker, curled a free kick beyond the reach of veteran Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to put Spain ahead in the 13th minute.
Isco then received the ball on the edge of the area and danced past a defender before cracking a low shot into the near bottom corner which again proved too quick for Buffon five minutes before halftime.
Substitute Morata crafted a superb counter-attack with Sergio Ramos to start and finish the move for the third goal which he slotted past former Juventus team mate Buffon 13 minutes from time, rounding off Spain’s best performance against Italy since their 4-0 win in the Euro 2012 final.
Spain top Group G on 19 points, three ahead of Italy and seven clear of Albania, who beat basement side Liechtenstein 2-0 on Saturday.
Macedonia pulled off a surprise 1-0 victory at Israel but are still three points behind them in fifth place.
The continued absence of top scorer Diego Costa and the explosive form of Marco Asensio compelled coach Julen Lopetegui to imitate his predecessor Vicente del Bosque and play without a recognised striker, a move which paid off to perfection.
Italy, shorn of influential defender Giorgio Chiellini and fielding four forwards which left little presence in midfield, lacked the intensity needed to counter Spain’s passing machine.
Isco may have given Spain their firepower but they created chances from all areas, with Dani Carvajal, Gerard Pique and Ramos all not far from scoring in the first half, while Italy’s only effort was a header from Andrea Belotti which David de Gea saved.
Isco further delighted the 85,000 supporters in his home stadium with an outrageous nutmeg through the legs of Marco Verratti in the second half which nearly lead to Carvajal scoring.
In the end the third came from ever reliable substitute Morata, who was denied a second goal late on by the offside flag.