Football News

Luis Enrique’s trusty Alvaro Morata helps Spain reach Uefa Nations League semi-finals after poor attacking display vs Portugal

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:39, 27 September 2022

Spain secured their spot in the semi-finals of the Uefa Nations League thanks to a 1-0 win over Portugal on Tuesday night.

It was a dream end to Nations League A2 with Portugal and Spain essentially playing off for the spot in the final four. Portugal had the upper hand and knew a draw would have been enough, while Spain needed to do something they hadn’t since the 2010 World Cup – beat Portugal inside 90 minutes.

Despite all the attacking talent on display, it was a game to largely forget between Portugal and Spain as the former were happy to sit back and frustrate their visitors who just couldn’t break them down. In the first half, Spain mustered just three shots with none on target despite having 66% possession. Having done the same last time out, it was the first time Spain had failed to register a shot on target in the first half of back-to-back games across all competitions since at least May 2006 according to Opta.

Portugal weren’t much better with four shots but two hit the target and the pair combined for an xG of 0.3 in the opening 45 minutes but Fernando Santos’ men were doing their job.

Things improved in the second half for Spain and they ended the match with 10 shots and five on target but Portugal managed to hold firm and frustrate Ferran Torres, who was brought off in the 73rd minute, extending his goalless run for La Roja to seven matches across all competitions. This poor run comes after the Barcelona forward had scored 12 goals in his previous 17 games for Spain.

Torres was replaced by Nico Williams, who some believed had only been called up to secure his future for Spain, after older brother Inaki Williams was able to switch his international allegiance to Ghana. But Williams’ introduction proved to be a vital one.

With just two minutes of normal time left to play, the Bilbao forward was given too much space at the far post to get his head onto a ball into the box from Dani Carvajal. Williams’ header, whether a shot or a genuine pass attempt, went across the face of the goal for Morata to slam home from close range securing all three points for Spain and a second consecutive appearance at the Uefa Nations League semi-finals.

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The goal was Morata’s 13th for Enrique since the former Barcelona boss took charge of Spain, with no player managing more during his reign (level with Torres). It was also another clutch moment from Morata, who also scored a late goal against Sweden last November to secure Spain’s spot at this year’s World Cup coming off the bench then to net the winner in the 86th minute.

Morata gets a lot of criticism for not being a clinical striker at both club and country level but he remains a reliable servant for Enrique, who has vocally backed him in the past. After a poor showing at Euro 2020, Enrique said: “Coaches have access to a lot of information that fans and journalists don’t have. They don’t see the training sessions.

“I say ‘Morata and ten more’ as a stimulus to give him more confidence, but not just because he’s missed a chance… He does a lot of things well. It isn’t about gifting him anything.”

Now Enrique will be hoping Morata can fire him to World Cup glory.