• Isco sparks Spain rout of Italy in World Cup qualifiers


    Spain’s midfielder Isco (left) kicks the ball past Italy’s midfielder Marco Verratti during the World Cup 2018 qualifier football match Spain vs Italy at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. AFP PHOTO

    MADRID: Spain took a giant step towards qualifying for next year’s World Cup as Isco’s double and Alvaro Morata’s late strike swept aside Italy 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).

    Isco was the star performer in a brilliant team display from the hosts as his early free-kick and long-range effort before half-time put Spain in control before Morata came off the bench to rub salt in Italian wounds.

    “Isco was magnificent, like the rest of his teammates,” said Spain coach Julen Lopetegui.

    “He opened the game up for us with his two goals.”

    Italy’s first defeat in a qualifier since 2006 means Spain now lead Group G of European qualifying by three points with just three games remaining and can also count on a far superior goal difference.

    The Azzurri are now likely to face a tricky two-legged playoff in November to book their place in Russia.

    “We’ve seen a match in which there was a huge difference in the quality and physique of the sides,” admitted Italy boss Giampiero Ventura.

    “Our objective is to work hard to get to the World Cup and be competitive at the World Cup.”

    Lopetegui opted to start without a recognised striker as Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio made his first competitive international start as one of six midfielders.

    Asensio has made a habit of scoring on his debuts for Real and was heavily involved in the opener, although it was his club teammate Isco who provided the killer touch on 14 minutes.

    Leonardo Bonucci was lucky only to see a yellow card for chopping down Asensio on the edge of the area.

    Isco scooped the resulting free-kick over the Italian wall and beyond legendary keeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was slow to react.

    In stark contrast to when Italy dumped Spain out of Euro 2016 little over a year ago with a comprehensive 2-0 last-16 win, the visitors were thoroughly outplayed in the first 45 minutes.



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