16th July 2024
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Yamal, 16, leads Spain’s new generation with dream start in Euro 2024, beating Croatia 3-0

Spain made a dream start to Euro 2024 as Alvaro Morata scored in the 3-0 victory over Croatia in Berlin on Saturday, with Lamine Yamal becoming the youngest player in the competition’s history.

The three-time European champions have often been accused of being soft in attack during recent major tournaments, but produced an eye-catching display at the Olympiastadion to cut apart a disappointing Croatia.

They won without dominating ball possession for the first time in 136 competitive games tallied by stats analyst Opta. Spain had only 46% possession against Croatia, according to UEFA.

‘We have to stay wary, stay calm and be proud. We have to keep improving in the next game,’ Spain coach Luis De La Fuente said after the game. He warned Spanish journalists not to get carried away. ‘We just have to stay calm and be professional.’

Morata broke the deadlock in the 29th minute with his seventh Euros goal, moving joint-third on the all-time list alongside Alan Shearer and Antoine Griezmann.

Fabian Ruiz added a second shortly afterwards with a wonderful individual strike.

Yamal made his mark with the assist for Dani Carvajal to effectively kill the game as a contest on the stroke of half-time, while Croatia striker Bruno Petkovic missed a late penalty.

‘Very happy with the win, for my (Euros) debut,’ Yamal told national broadcaster La 1. ‘We’ve got confidence, we’re a very efficient team and we’re showing it. We’re happy because all the work from the last few months has borne fruit.’

This repeat of last year’s Nations League final, won by Spain on penalties after a 0-0 draw, suggests La Roja are capable of contending for a record-breaking fourth European Championship title.

World Cup semi-finalists Croatia, though, have it all to do if they are to reach the knockout phase for a fifth consecutive major tournament, with games against Albania and holders Italy to come in a difficult Group B.

Luka Modric, so often their inspiration, was substituted midway through the second half by coach Zlatko Dalic.

Spain boss Luis de la Fuente named an exciting starting XI, including wingers Nico Williams and Yamal.

The Barcelona starlet, 16 years and 338 days old, beat the previous record for youngest player at a Euros held by Polish international Kacper Kozlowski, who played at Euro 2020 at 17 years and 246 days old.

Croatia enjoyed the vast majority of support from the stands, with their fans holding up one huge banner during their national anthem, reading ‘When we get going, heaven and earth will burn.’

But Croatia started slowly, as Spain dominated possession in trademark fashion. Spain also showed their increasing versatility under De la Fuente with their first goal, as one excellent through ball from inside his own half by Ruiz sent Morata clean through and the captain made no mistake with a cool finish past a stranded Dominik Livakovic.

Ruiz put Spain in total control just three minutes later, jinking past two Croatia defenders inside the box before shooting through the legs of Josip Sutalo and into the bottom corner.

Croatia almost pulled one back immediately as the game started to echo the end-to-end nature of the two teams’ thrilling last-16 clash at Euro 2020, won 5-3 by Spain after extra time.

Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon got down quickly to keep out Marcelo Brozovic’s shot and Lovro Majer could only find the side-netting from the rebound.

Croatia continued to create chances, as Josko Gvardiol’s cross-cum-shot narrowly avoided both Ante Budimir in the centre and the far post.

But full-back Carvajal, who scored the opening goal in Real Madrid’s Champions League final triumph over Borussia Dortmund earlier this month, put the game to bed in first-half added time.

Yamal collected the ball after a corner was cleared and curled a delicious cross into the middle for Carvajal to stretch and stab home his first international goal on the volley.

Yamal was denied another record for youngest Euros scorer when Livakovic produced a fine save to turn away his low effort early in the second half.

Marc Cucurella, a controversial selection by De la Fuente at left-back, made a goal-saving block to prevent Josip Stanisic giving Croatia hope.

Substitute Petkovic thought he had pulled one back late on when he tapped in after his penalty was saved by Simon.

But the goal was ruled out by VAR for encroachment by Ivan Perisic as Spain added a clean sheet to an almost perfect outing.

Italy beat Albania 2-1 in the other group match on Saturday. Croatia plays Albania in Hamburg on Wednesday, while Spain faces Italy in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday.

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