Spain took the field at Gran Canaria against Bosnia-Herzegovina for a friendly Sunday evening, hours after learning that England’s 2-1 victory over Croatia had knocked them out of the next phase of the inaugural UEFA Nations League. That result seemed to loom large over the match, especially in the first 45 minutes as Spain struggled to create many clear-cut chances and Bosnia-Herzegovina were content to sit back and attempt to stifle their attack.
Luis Enrique fielded a starting eleven that was almost entirely changed from the team that lost 3-2 against Croatia midweek. The only holdovers from that starting squad were two Real Madrid players, Dani Ceballos and Isco. Asensio also started and played the full 90 minutes. Kepa got the start in goal in front of the much maligned David De Gea, and Mario Hermoso teamed up with Diego Llorente in central defense.
The statistics paint a picture of a dominant Spanish team, with 70% possession and 21 shots to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s 3, but the actual game didn’t reflect that narrative. La Roja came out looking sluggish and only mildly engaged, passing the ball around to little effect aside from some good play by Isco, who was Spain’s best player for most of the game. The only real chances in the first half were long distance efforts from Isco and Suso, along with a header that Asensio put wide.
Things picked up some in the second half, as Spain got more penetration into Bosnia-Herzegovina’s defense and got off a few decent shots, but Morata missed some excellent chances to give his team the lead. The worst of these was in the 58th minute, when Asensio forced a save from the keeper Sehic and Morata, faced with an open net, put the ball over the crossbar.
Within the next ten minutes, Luis Enrique subbed out Suso, Ceballos, and Morata for Brais Mendez, Pablo Fornals, and Rodrigo, and this combination of new players helped produce the breakthrough. In the 78th minute, Fornals played an excellent through ball to Gaya, whose cutback eventually made its way to Isco just outside the box. He put in a stinging shot that forced a diving save from Sehic, who spilled the ball right into the path of Brais Mendez, who calmly slotted home the rebound for a goal on his debut for the national team.
There weren’t a lot of standout performances in this one, as it was a pretty underwhelming effort for most of the 90 minutes. Mario Hermoso acquitted himself well in his own debut, but neither he nor Llorente had a whole lot to do and so we never really got to see a true trial run for Hermoso as the transfer rumors rumble on. Asensio looked positive in some stretches but his finishing wasn’t overly impressive. Fornals played the killer ball that opened up the defense and ultimately led to the goal, and Mendez scored a good poacher’s goal, but other than that, only Isco really looked good out there. Hopefully that is a sign that good form is on the horizon for him with Real Madrid as well.
Ultimately, this was an overall lackluster performance from both sides. Spain at least managed to close out 2018 with a win, which can only help morale, but the real highlight of this one came before the opening whistle, when David Silva was honored for his 125 appearances and 35 goals for the national team in front a hometown crowd in the Estadio de Gran Canaria. He performed the ceremonial opening kick with his son, Mateo, who was born extremely premature last December, donning a Spain jersey bearing his dad’s name. It was a touching moment, both for the reception Silva got and for the chance he got to show off his baby boy, who almost didn’t make it. La Roja will need skills like Silva’s as well as the fighting spirit of his son to make 2019 a better year than 2018. Hopefully they find both.