Football Features

“What a powerful presence!” – Supersubs Gavi and Sarabia steal the show as Spain beat Czech Republic

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:38, 12 June 2022

Gavi and Pablo Sarabia starred off the bench as Spain beat Czech Republic 2-0 to go top of their Nations League group.

After drawing their first two games, Spain have now won two on the spin and risen to eight points which sends them to the top of Group 2, one point above 2019 Nations League winners Portugal.

Spain dominated the Czech Republic in Prague but ridiculous defensive mistakes saw them come away with just a draw from that game. Tonight they showed no such frailties, well, not as often anyway.

There were a few ropey moments in the first-half with Unai Simon’s aggressive attitude, but Spain rode them out and took the lead 24 minutes in after a flowing attacking move.

Having worked the ball up the left-flank only to see it rebuffed, Spain built again through the middle and a long ball from Koke found Marco Asensio running down the right flank. The Real Madrid man was starting his first game for Spain since 2020 and cut the ball back onto his left foot then slipped a simple pass inside for Carlos Soler to slam Spain into the lead.

The goal meant that Asensio now has seven assists for Spain since the 2018 World Cup (i.e. the Luis Enrique and Robert Moreno era) which is second-only to Jordi Alba (who has eight) in that time.

The game burst to life just short of the hour mark with the introduction of Ferran Torres and, more importantly, Gavi.

The teenage sensation is from Seville, so the Andalucian crowd in Malaga was more than delighted to see him and the young superstar more than lived up to the crowd’s adoring reaction.

From the instant he came on, Gavi was commanding the ball, drifting in an out of space and causing problems for the Czech defence. Just as he has done in each of the Nations League games this summer, he was a singular driving force for Spain.

He had the crowd in the palm of his hand, too. They moved when he moved, cheered when he commanded. Here was this 17 year-old with his laces untied and he was moving like Freddie Mercury during Live Aid. What a powerful presence!

To the surprise of no one, Spain’s second goal originated from the feet of Gavi. The teenager blew by his marker in midfield with Iniesta-esque panache, driving forward before slipping it to Dani Olmo whose dinked pass sent it wide to Ferran Torres.

The Barcelona man took a touch to set himself then fired a low ball across the face of goal for Pablo Sarabia (who himself had just come off the bench a few minutes earlier) to arrive at the far-post and tap the ball home.

It was a lovely flowing move and for it to involve graduates from the youth acadamies of Barcelona (twice), Valencia and Real Madrid felt quite appropriate as Luis Enrique uniting the big powers of Spain.

Sarabia now has two goals in his last two games for Spain, scoring the winner against Switzerland and the second tonight, giving him nine total in 22 caps for Spain. Despite being 30 years-old, this makes him the fastest non-striker to reach nine goals for Spain since Pirri scored nine in his first 18 games for La Roja back in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

With the World Cup on the horizon, the Spanish midfield seems largely set with Sergio Busquets and Pedri surely locked in as starters while young superstar Gavi will probably rotate that last spot with Koke and Marcos Llorente.

Unai Simon will be in goal, while Aymeric Laporte, Jordi Alba and Cesar Azpilicueta starting seems almost certain as long as they are fit. That final centre-back slot is interesting, however. Could it go to Pau Torres? Although two left-footed centre-backs is always a risk. Eric Garcia has often been a weak point but tonight he put in an imperious display that shows that he could yet be the answer there.

In attack, Alvaro Morata is the no. 9 and it’s clear that Luis Enrique has four trusted wingers (Ferran Torres, Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio and Pablo Sarabia) and he would be overjoyed that all of them were involved with Spain’s goals today.

Lack of goalscoring is what cost Spain the chance to win Euro 2020 and the 2021 Nations League, if these four wingers (and a returning Ansu Fati) could give Spain a killer touch in the final third, this could give them a huge platform to challenge for the 2022 World Cup.