FOOT­BALL ROUND-UP

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

Elche, Spain - Spain's iden­tity cri­sis looks to be well and truly over af­ter Marco Asen­sio in­spired a 6-0 thrash­ing of World Cup run­ner-up Croa­tia in the UEFA Na­tions League on Tues­day.

De­feat to Rus­sia in July prompted a change of coach and doubts about the Span­ish pass­ing style but af­ter an im­pres­sive win over Eng­land at Wem­b­ley, Luis En­rique has now over­seen a de­mo­li­tion of Croa­tia too.

Asen­sio's two long-range shots, the sec­ond can­non­ing in off goal­keeper Lovre Kalinic, had Spain three up be­fore half-time in Elche, af­ter Saul Niguez had ear­lier headed home.

Croa­tia, ab­ject at the back, was no bet­ter af­ter the break.

Asen­sio first threaded Ro­drigo Moreno through to fin­ish be­fore sup­ply­ing the cor­ner for an un­marked Ser­gio Ramos to nod in number five.

Isco then flashed a sixth into the top cor­ner, again Asen­sio the provider.

Two vic­to­ries in four days mean Spain sit top of League A's Group Two, with a six-point gap over both Croa­tia and Eng­land, who play each other in Ri­jeka next month.

Asen­sio was the star, his goal and trio of sec­ond-half as­sists fully jus­ti­fy­ing his start ahead of Iago As­pas.

But Saul, who shone against Eng­land, was ex­cel­lent too in mid­field, de­part­ing to a stand­ing ova­tion at the Es­ta­dio Martinez Valero, in the town where he was born.

For Croa­tia, this was a hum­bling loss that leaves the cur­rent crop open to ques­tions about how it sus­tains mo­men­tum fol­low­ing that su­perb run in Rus­sia.

Luka Mo­dric and Ivan Rakitic, still at the top of their games, em­braced Real Madrid and Barcelona team-mates in the tun­nel and Croa­tia started brightly, with Ivan San­tini miss­ing two de­cent early chances from close range.

En­rique hails per­fect start

En­rique de­scribed it as the per­fect start af­ter the win.

"It would be very easy to say that this is my Spain, gen­er­at­ing many chances and con­ced­ing few goals, but the truth is that I am chang­ing things very fast," En­rique said.

"This week ev­ery­thing was per­fect."

"Com­par­isons with the World Cup and tonight do not make sense," En­rique said.

"To­day we were very ef­fec­tive and ev­ery­thing went won­der­fully well. They had an early chance, they didn't take it and then we played bril­liantly and scored some great goals."

Croa­tia coach said, "We can­not cry about it, we have to im­prove."

"What hap­pened has hap­pened, all their chances have gone in and it is bet­ter that it hap­pened to­day than later.

"Af­ter the first goal we were not so fo­cused, we tried to do things too fast and started to aban­don the sys­tem.

"That is not a so­lu­tion against Spain, who plays well at home, who likes to dom­i­nate the ball. Af­ter the sec­ond goal, the match was over for us."

(AFP)

Spain's Marco Asen­sio (left) cel­e­brates with Dani Ce­bal­los af­ter scor­ing against Croa­tia at the Manuel Martinez Valero sta­dium in Elche, Spain, on Tues­day

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