It’s probably fair to say that out of all that teams who have participated in the opening rounds of the UEFA Nations League over the past week, none have impressed as much as Spain have. A narrow but ultimately straightforward 2-1 win over England at Wembley was followed by an absolute trouncing of Croatia yesterday, with Spain hitting six against the World Cup finalists.
Following a drama-filled early exit from Russia this summer, La Furia Roja are back to some of their furious best, with a new coach, a few new players, and a new goalscoring star in Valencia’s Rodrigo, who now has two goals in two starts under Luis Enrique. Álvaro Morata may be back in the team, but at this rate, he won’t be playing much, especially after Diego Costa returns as well. Diego was given personal leave from the national team to attend the birth of his daughter on Sunday. Congrats, Diego!
The Spanish press are falling head over heels for Lucho, who’s building around rising young stars like Saúl Ñíguez, Marco Asensio (he had a goal, his first for Spain and three assists yesterday, and hit the woodwork, too), and Dani Ceballos, while giving a central role to Isco and keeping a solid core of veterans at the back. That includes Chelsea fullback duo Marcos Alonso and César Azpilicueta, both of whom played once during this break. Alonso started against England while Azpilicueta got to make a rare appearance off the bench for the final 15 minutes against Croatia.
Mateo Kovačić suffered through the full 90 against Spain and was technically responsible for Spain’s second goal, but his giveaway had as much to do with his teammates slacking as his errant passing.
In happier Chelsea-related news, Eden Hazard was once again on point from the spot and Romelu Lukaku added a brace (after winning the penalty to get things rolling) as Belgium made short work of Iceland, 3-0. Hazard played almost the full game before being replaced by younger brother Thorgan for the final few minutes. Batshuayi watched from the bench.
In friendly action, England put together a decent second half to beat Switzerland 1-0 at the King Power in Leicester, with Marcus Rashford netting the winner. Ruben Loftus-Cheek started and played about an hour before being replaced by Jesse Lingard.
Much later in the day, Brazil vanquished El Salvador 5-0, with Willian getting another substitute appearance. It was a big day for former Chelsea transfer target Richarlison, who was making his full debut for the Selecão. The Everton man nabbed a brace, while Neymar grabbed a goal as well in addition to his three assists. With Richarlison, Douglas Costa, Philippe Coutinho all vying for spots next to Neymar, and plenty of young talent emerging every new day from Brazil, Willian’s increasingly got a tough job on his hands to keep his place in Tite’s selections.
Meanwhile, in slightly less friendly action, the US Men’s National Team took on Mexico last night as well — it’s never a friendly between those two — with the Americans walking away with the surprise 1-0 win. Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga, after showing well against Brazil last week, was once again very good and even brought a little extra something-something to the table in this one.
With the match scoreless in the 65th minute, Miazga got into a bit of afters with Diego Lainez, who’s apparently rather short. It wasn’t quite Fellaini vs. Wilshere, but it was still fairly funny. Lainez’s teammates of course didn’t find it very funny and Edson Alvarez earned himself a yellow for rushing in to body up Miazga. Then, with temperatures raised, Mexico’s Ángel Zaldivar got himself sent off almost immediately for a bad tackle, and the US scored not five minutes later. Diego Costa would be proud of Captain Miazgamerica for this heightist sh*thousery.
Last but not least, there were two goals of note in youth internationals, as Mason Mount celebrated his U21 debut with a goal (of course he did), and fellow goal-machine Tammy Abraham got on the scoresheet as well (with Mount getting the assist on the header). England beat Latvia 2-1 to remain unbeaten in Euro U21 qualification.
This game did not have very good coverage, but here’s Mount’s goal, a well-taken finish from the right side of the area.
And now back to proper football!