Sublime Spain swat away Turkey to send out big Euros statement
Andres Iniesta inspired again as defending champions reach the Euro 2016 knockouts
Spain celebrate Alvaro Morata’s second during their comfortable 3-0 win over Turkey, a result which secured their passage into the last-16. Photograph: Epa
There was nothing false about Spain’s forward line on a night when they cruised into the knockout stage of the championships. The search for cutting edge attacking focal points 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 plus the sharpened lines to goal on top, made for an impressive mix.
Turkey’s boisterous fans played their part but their players were 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 on Tuesday will be enough 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.
Vicente del Bosque selected the same lineup in successive games for the first time in 52 matches. For all the Spain coach’s talk of evolution in recent times as the Spanish have tried to blend new talent to replace some of the departed greats, there was still a heavy reliance on the defending champions that made up the bulk of the first XI.
But there is, undeniably, the sense of fresh flavours added to the mix. Debate over Spain’s forward line is a long-running saga, and after it took a centre-half to score their opening game match-winner, 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.
The window for Turkey to try to exploit at the start was brief. Sergio Ramos bundled Burak Yilmaz over in the opening minute and earned the fastest booking the Euros has seen for over a decade. The Turks appeared psyched up to make more of an impression than they had in a meek opening defeat against Croatia.
They needed something to cling to, as Spain set at Turkey with relish. Morata demonstrated his strength to see off a couple of markers and find room to crack in a low shot which Volkan Babacan could only parry behind his near post. Moments later Jordi Alba’s whipped cross fizzed invitingly, and in trying to clear the danger Hakan Balta could only stab the ball against the outside of the post. Before they could catch their breath Turkey watched as Gerard Piqué arrived to meet the set piece. This time his contact was not clean enough to make the difference.
The pattern of Spain’s dominance was challenging for Turkey to break. When they did escape to link together a few passes beyond the halfway line, the Spanish supporters whistled and jeered - as if it was ridiculous for an opponent to try to build possession. Hakan Calhanoglu tried to make something happen but his long distance efforts barely troubled David de Gea.
It felt like 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 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 confidently in on the turn.
Spain extended their lead early in the second half. There was a fraction of fortune as Alba looked offside when he received a sumptuous ball from Andrés Iniesta delivered with a nonchalant flick of the outside of his boot. Alba helped the ball across for Morata to drill unerringly in. 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.
De Gea is yet to concede a goal for Spain in 11 appearances and that record was not under serious threat. When Olcay Sahan burst down the left but César Azpilicueta helped to shuffle the danger away.
It has not been an uplifting tournament for Fatih Terim and his team. Their raucous fans sang away at the final whistle but yet again the sight and sound of flares in the stadium echoed through a game. Spain, though, calmly and quietly accentuate the positives.