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Spain 3-0 Norway: La Roja pull away late as Morata takes captaincy

Luis de la Fuente took charge of his first game as coach on Saturday.

Spain v Norway: Group A - UEFA EURO 2024 Qualifying Round Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Spain secured a 3-0 win over Norway in Luis de la Fuente’s first match in charge of the country, featuring Atlético Madrid’s Álvaro Morata as captain for the first time.

The centre forward, who dons the number seven for his country, was appointed captain following the retirement of Sergio Busquets and De la Fuente’s decision not to call up other players with more appearances for their country, such as Morata’s Atlético teammate Koke or FC Barcelona full-back Jordi Alba.

Morata started in a game which saw Dani Olmo score in the first half before a late Joselu brace sealed the result beyond doubt. The Espanyol forward replaced Morata for the final nine minutes of action for his international debut.

Quiet display against Norway

Morata had scored four in his last five games for Spain heading into this UEFA EURO 2024 qualifying tie and would have been keen to add another, but it wasn’t to be for the 30-year-old attacker — though his performance did have positives.

In reality, Spain created few chances and felt more pressure from Norway than they created themselves for much of the game, meaning that Morata was starved of service. When the ball did move into the final third, it would often come down the flanks before a player cut inside rather than with play direct to Morata, who acted as the number-nine figure De la Fuente prefers to have in his teams.

Morata did create one chance with good hold-up play and a nice flick to lay off Dani Olmo to the side of him, but his influence overall was limited. With Iago Aspas playing as the number 10 behind him, Morata couldn’t drop deep and found himself on the shoulder of the last man.

The connection between the two was clearly one that needs to be developed further, as it looked uncoordinated and uncomfortable for both players. Morata only registered 11 passes through his 81 minutes.

Koke, Llorente, Hermoso among those left out

However, this international break with Spain hasn’t been all good news from an Atlético Madrid point of view.

Luis de la Fuente overlooked several in-form Atleti players, and opted to drop two players from the squad that predecessor Luis Enrique took to the World Cup in Qatar. That includes club captain Koke, who would have captained Spain ahead of Morata in this break if he had been selected. This is because of Koke’s superior number of international caps (with 70) compared to Morata (62).

It was a curious decision to leave out Llorente given what a natural fit he would seem to be on the right of attack in the place of Dani Olmo. The RB Leipzig player scored but contributed little at other times during a spell of poor form at club level, and while De la Fuente tends to prefer out-and-out wingers, Llorente would have been an intriguing selection.

Spain v Norway - UEFA EURO 2024 Qualifiers Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Finally, it is no secret that Hermoso has been in incredible form in 2023, and many tipped him to be in the conversation for a call-up. Central defence was one of the major uncertainties in this squad selection, but Hermoso was overlooked anyway. Many will feel Hermoso could have had a say given the fact that Real Madrid’s Nacho (who hadn’t won a cap in nearly 5 years) was selected as one of the starting central defenders against Norway.

Rodrigo Riquelme stars for the Under 21s

At the under-21 level, an Atlético Madrid player took up a leading role too. Santi Denia, the former Atlético defender who racked up over 250 appearances for the club between 1995 and 2005, made his debut as Under-21 coach and had Rodrigo Riquelme to thank for a 3-2 win over Switzerland.

It was a surprise to see no Atleti players in Denia’s first starting line-up, with Riquelme having been tipped to start, and that XI had to chase the game for much of the tie. Switzerland twice took the lead, either side of a strike from Real Betis’s Rodri.

That was until Riquelme came onto the field, which changed the game significantly.

First, Riqulme linked up with fellow substitute and Atleti loanee Sergio Camello to level the game at 2-2. The pair combined for an impressive one-two, and Camello played in Riquelme to equalize.

Moments later, Riquelme made it 3-2 to Spain with a pinpoint finish from the left of the box. He curled the ball in at the far post, which showed all his technical ability and composure.

Also off the bench came Manu Sánchez, the left-back currently on loan at Osasuna, and Camello, who is enjoying a loan spell at Rayo Vallecano. Camello also went close to scoring and forced a fantastic save with a header, but both will hope to work their way into the team.