2nd December 2023

Spain beat Bosnia after Nations League heartache

Spain responded to their UEFA Nations League disappointment by beating Bosnia 1-0 on Sunday but an unconvincing victory will have done little to lift the mood.

Luis Enrique’s side needed 21-year-old debutant Brais Mendez, on as a substitute, to score the only goal of a scrappy game at Estadio Gran Canaria, in which neither side would have been unfairly represented by a stalemate.

Spain already knew their hopes of progressing to the Nations League finals were over after England snatched top spot in Group 4 following a last-gasp win at Wembley over Croatia.

A thrilling conclusion, which would have sent Spain through had Croatia held on for a point, was a feather in the cap for the inaugural tournament and came in stark contrast to this rather underwhelming friendly a few hours later.

Brais Mendez
Spain’s midfielder Brais Mendez (left) celebrates a goal with Isco during the international friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Las Palmas on 18 November 2018. (Lluis Gene / AFP)

‘Bad luck and mistakes we made meant we didn’t make the finals,’ Luis Enrique said. ‘I would have liked a draw (between England and Croatia) but I’m focused on qualification for the European Championship and I think the team looks good.’

A narrow win over Bosnia came with a rotated and youthful line-up, in which only Isco and Dani Ceballos survived from Thursday’s defeat by Croatia in Zagreb.

Harry Kane’s late winner against Croatia had the Spanish press swooning for a striker of his calibre and another erratic performance from Alvaro Morata hardly promoted the Chelsea striker’s cause.

‘It is always difficult against a team that sits back. It is very nice for a coach to see there is a future,’ added Luis Enrique.

Inspired Isco

Sergio Ramos, out of form this season, was injured and unavailable, opening the door to Real Sociedad’s Diego Llorente and Espanyol’s Mario Hermoso to stake their claim as the absent captain’s regular partner. Neither made a misstep but they were also rarely tested.

Luis Enrique chose not to select Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea for the first time, with Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga coming in, while Isco was named captain.

Bosnia, with promotion from League B secured in the Nations League, came in unbeaten in nine matches under Robert Prosinecki but were without their injured playmaker Miralem Pjanic.

Spain’s master playmaker David Silva was on the pitch with his son before kick-off as the midfielder, who retired from international football in the summer, was presented with a shirt to honour his 125 caps.

Edin Visca tested Kepa’s nerves with an early shot but otherwise Spain dominated possession, with Marco Asensio and Isco both releasing early efforts at goal.

Isco continued to be his team’s most likely source of success but another drive was saved by Ibrahim Sehic before half-time.

Morata failed to connect with Isco’s whipped cross, fired over and then stabbed wide after Asensio’s shot was parried into his path.

In between, Bosnia could have taken the lead but the sliding Rade Krunic arrived just too late to divert Visca’s shot across goal.

Bosnia looked to be gaining momentum, just as Spain struck with 12 minutes left. Jose Gaya’s cross was collected by Isco at the back post and his shot was pushed out by Sehic, only for Brais to finish off the rebound. Bosnia never looked like finding an equaliser.

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