In their first match of the U-21 European Championship, the Spaniards came out victorious with a convincing 5-0 display against Macedonia. Goals by Saul, Deulofeu, and a hat-trick by Marco Asensio made sure their competitors never even sniffed victory.
Arguably coming into the tournament as favourites, the Spanish team is absolutely loaded with talent. So much in fact, that it has been considered by those in Spain as the most talented U21 team the competition has ever seen. This squad is so talented that players like Iñaki Williams, Ceballos, and Oyarzabal can not even crack the starting lineup. That speaks volumes to the fact that three Madridistas made the starting lineup (Vallejo, Llorente, and Asensio), while another resided on the bench (Mayoral).
Confirmed starting line-ups...— UEFA U21 EURO (@UEFAUnder21) June 17, 2017
#U21EURO #ESPMKD pic.twitter.com/RHow6CBM9F
The first half began with a surprising team on top. Macedonia dominated the early stretches of the game, controlling possession while Spain were happy to sit back. This created a few small chances, but nothing of any real substance for the Macedonians.
With 10 minutes gone, some wonderful work in possession from Asensio after winning the ball back led to a bicycle kick from Saul for the opener. The Macedonian keeper should have done better, but it did not matter as Spain grabbed the early lead. It was the first goal Macedonia had conceded in seven games.
Just minutes later, Macedonia were granted their biggest chance of the half for an equalizer. The ball fell to the small country’s striker, but it took an unfortunate bounce and the chance was lost.
Macedonia were made to rue this missed chance when their Goalkeeper was caught in no-man’s-land after a tremendous ball from Asensio. Gerard Deulofeu had his shot blocked by a defender, but a mere 15 seconds and a few passes later Marco Asensio scored a screamer to put Spain up 2-0.
10': Saúl scores a bicycle kick.— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) June 17, 2017
16': Marco Asensio scores an incredible long-range goal.
Two spectacular goals for Spain U21s. pic.twitter.com/Jawe2n4y0K
Spain began to go into cruise control, fashioning chances in possession through a lovely Deulofeu cross that was just slightly ahead of Sandro for the third. A world class save denied Marco Asensio his brace just minutes later.
This pressure continued until Gaya beat Macedonia’s right back off the dribble and attempted to put in a dangerous cross. The cross was blocked by a hand, and the ref immediately pointed to the spot as Spain were awarded yet another chance to put their stamp on the match. Deulofeu stepped up and calmly slotted in the penalty to extend the lead.
The final five minutes of the half were highlighted by Macedonia winning chance after chance. Despite creating two or three decent scoring opportunities, none were converted, and Spain averted danger to head into halftime with a 3-0 lead.
The second half started as the first half ended, with Macedonia on the front foot. After seven or eight minutes of control from Macedonia, Spain sprung into life through Marco Asensio. A long run with the ball from the Real Madrid starlet ended with a cross that just missed Sandro. Less than two minutes later, Marcos Llorente fed Asensio who took on a defender and scored after a deflection to give Spain a four-goal cushion.
Macedonia had a positive response, and struck the crossbar shortly after. The follow up attempt was blocked by Vallejo as Spain stood firm again. Sensing change was needed, Deulofeu was subbed out for Ceballos in order to gain more midfield control around the hour mark.
From there on out Spain started dominating possession, as Ceballos took complete control of the proceedings. Another wonderful Marco Asensio run led to the completion of his hat-trick after another high-quality finish. With a five-goal lead in tow, Spain subbed their striker and Malaga man Sandro off for Inaki Williams with just over 15 minutes remaining.
Marco Asensio making the #euroU21 look so easy ⚽⚽⚽ pic.twitter.com/kelBJADeco— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 17, 2017
At that point Marcos Llorente began to exert his influence on the game. He started to break up attacks and distribute the ball better than he had throughout the match prior to the substitution. It is not that he had been poor beforehand, he just had not been as good as Madridistas know he can be. Rarely making vertical passes in the first 75 minutes, Llorente sprayed some very accurate long balls in the final 15.
Ten minutes from time Oyarzabal came on for Asensio, however this remaining time was not very full of action. Macedonia seemed content to avoid conceding anymore goals while Spain decided to ease off the gas pedal before their potential group-deciding match against Portugal.
Thoughts and Observations
Macedonia are a decent team, but this Spanish team is loaded to the brink with talent. Despite this talent, they never looked fully in control in the center of the park until Dani Ceballos was brought in. He was lively during his time on the pitch, and much of Spain’s attack ran through him. When he entered the field Marcos Llorente’s influence on the match increased as well, leading to a monopoly of the possession by Spain.
Speaking of Ceballos, the player has only a 15 million release clause, and would be an absolute steal either this Summer or next. Do not be at all surprised if Real Madrid decide to make this move. Although Deulofeu is considered the captain of the squad due to seniority, Spain would be wise to play Ceballos instead.
I'm not sure Deulofeu's flair trumps Ceballos' two-way presence, particularly against Portugal.— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) June 17, 2017
All of Madrid’s players looked so comfortable on the ball. Asensio’s presence was felt through goals, while Llorente helped control possession, and Vallejo never put a foot wrong with the ball. While not a standout game for Vallejo, he was consistent and reliable. I can’t remember him misplacing a pass, but there were times one felt he could have read Macedonian attacks better.
Finally, what a performance from Marco Asensio. Undoubtedly Man of the match. Whenever Spain’s possession play occasionally stagnated, Asensio dropped deeper, or provided a spark with his dribbling to keep Macedonian defenders on their toes. Deserved hat-trick for an unbelievable talent.