Alvaro Morata shut up his critics and repaid Luis Enrique’s faith a thousand times over with his stunning strike to break Croatia hearts… Spain have proven in him and Unai Simon – who bounced back after a horror mistake – that they CAN overcome adversity
It had to be Alvaro Morata. Recipient of some sickening abuse during Spain’s three games on home soil he was even asked if he’d be happier now playing in Copenhagen and potentially St. Petersburg and not in his home country.
‘No I’d rather play all the games in Spain,’ he said. That after earlier revealing: ‘People should think what it’s like to reason threats, and insults to your family, things like “I hope your children die”.’
Spain coach Luis Enrique fumed in the pre-match press conference that the insults, online and aimed at his family in the stadium wearing Spain shirts with his name on the back, should have become a police matter.
Alvaro Morata shut up his critics by scoring an important goal to help Spain defeat Croatia
He never lost faith with his much-criticised striker and when he scored Spain’s fourth goal to put Spain in the quarter-finals the faith was repaid a thousand times over.
Luis Enrique has got his Spain side in the last eight with 10 goals in two games turning their tournament. They have shown in Morata and in the performance of keeper Unai Simon that they can overcome adversity.
It wasn’t clear who his first choice goalkeeper would be at the start of the tournament. A rumour that Brighton keeper Robert Sanchez would start the first game turned out to be unfounded but it underlined the doubts over both Unai Simon and David De Gea.
Last season Simon made six mistakes that led to goals for his club Athletic Bilbao – no goalkeeper in Europe’s top leagues had a worse record.
The striker took his goal exceptionally well to put Spain ahead in extra-time on Monday
This SofaScore graphic shows how key Morata was for Spain going forward
He has done it in a Spain shirt too, against Kosovo in a 3-1 win in April. Simon came charging out of his area and neither cleared the ball nor brought it under control. He made things worth by continuing to chase his terrible first touch and was closer to the half way line than to his own goal when Besar Halimi scored from distance into the empty net.
His shot stopping has kept him in the team despite the errors and his saves from Josko Gvardiol and Andrej Kramaric last night in Parken Stadium more than made amends for the mistake.
After his error it was Cesar Azpilicueta who consoled him and no one deserves his place in the quarter-finals more that the Chelsea captain.
Spain boss Luis Enrique has kept faith with Morata and he was rewarded for that by his striker
The Spanish national team has not always been kind to him. Under-rated and overlooked, he has paid the price for being low-key and off-radar never having played for one of Spain’s big teams.
He has been in every Spain tournament squad since 2013 but only as the compliant squad player training hard without rocking the boat. This time leading Chelsea to the Champions League made him a shoe-in for the squad for some.
But without injuries to then-Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and his club team-mate Dani Carvajal he still might have missed the cut. His header was big goal in this extraordinary win. It was topped only by Morata’s cool finish on 100 minutes.
Spain are far from perfect but they have spirit and they are starting to believe that could take them all the way.
Unai Simon showed great character to make a crucial save in extra-time after his early blunder