Football Features

From Moise Kean to shocking Spanish strikers: the winners and losers from Saturday’s international fixtures

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:21, 23 March 2019

In an exciting night of Euro 2020 qualifying action, Spain and Italy opened their campaigns with wins.

Spain beat Norway in Valencia, dominating the game but picking up just a narrow 2-1 win. Meanwhile Italy cast Finland aside in Udine. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Moise Kean

Moise Keane was born in Vercelli, an hour outside Turin, and has been at Juventus since he was 10 years old. He first appeared for the Old Lady at the tail-end of the 2016/17 season but has broken through properly this year. He made his Italy debut in the last international break and now, in his first start, he showed just how electric he really can be for the Azzurri.

Kean was everything good about Italy. He turned their dominance of the game into danger with his incredible pace and intelligence of movement. He drifted into space and so often functioned as an out-ball for his side – creating chances for his team-mates before, with 15 minutes to go, scoring a superbly composed effort to kill the game, give his country the three points and mark himself as the second-youngest ever player to score a goal for Italy.

Two games, one goal. Moise Kean is here to stay!

Loser: Teemu Pukki

When you’re playing a superior side, you really need to take your chances. Teemu Pukki is Finland’s leading striker, their talisman, and if there is anyone that they would have wanted their best chance to fall to – it would be him. Except it did, and he blinked.

A lovely cross came in from the Finland right, fizzed low across the box it skipped by the Italian defenders and left Pukki coming in at the near-post looking into the whites of Gianluigi Donnarumma’s eyes. It was an easy sweep finish across the goal, but instead Pukki completely whiffed it.

Not long after, Kean doubled Italy’s lead and the game was over. Moments like this can change the entire fate of qualifying campaigns and Finland will be heartbroken that Pukki let his club form (he has missed 12 big chances in the Championship for Norwich) carry over onto the international stage.

Winner: Jordi Alba

Spain’s display was a mishmash of quality and nonsense but one player used the performance to firmly establish his overwhelming quality and that was left-back Jordi Alba. The pint-sized Barcelona full-back is having an absurdly good season with 12 assists for the Blaugrana across all competitions, but he wasn’t always in the Spain side.

It was only his overwhelming quality that allowed him to force his way back in after personal issues with Luis Enrique saw inferior players selected ahead of him. But now he’s in, he’s as essential as he is for his club. Alba bombed up and down the flank all night, defending his side of the pitch well and then launching Spain attacks too. It was his devastating run and cross that created the only open play goal of the game.

Jordi Alba is the best left-back in the world, no contest.

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Loser: Faroe Islands

No, seriously. With five wins in their previous 25 games (or 3 in their last 15), the Faroe Islands would have had genuine hopes of beating Malta in their opening qualifying game, because in their last 25 they had won just once and that run of games contains a loss and draw against the Faroes in the UEFA Nations League.

Yet the Faroes fell to 2-0 defeat despite dominating the match – they had 64% possession but simply couldn’t make it happen, only scoring a consolation in the eighth minute of injury time. Back to the drawing board!

Winner: Spain’s attacking play

Spain haven’t looked this vibrant and dynamic since their last warm-up games for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. No, seriously. Alright the level of opposition should be taken into account but Luis Enrique had Spain flying all over the pitch in a very good way. They were devastating in their ability to mix short-passing possession play with explosive moves and accurate crosses.

With Sergio Busquets, Dani Parejo and Dani Ceballos pulling the strings, chances were being created at will. The full-backs were bombing forward and overloading the Norwegian defenders, allowing Rodrigo and Marco Asensio to drift infield into dangerous zones and draw markers away from Alvaro Morata. This whirlwind of movement led to chance after chance after chance. Sure, Spain only scored twice but if they keep playing like this then they’ll start hammering them in soon enough.

Loser: Spain’s finishing

Well, you’d think so… but maybe not? As good as Spain’s attacking play was, as often as they cut Norway to ribbons, their finish was absolutely atrocious. Rodrigo managed one half-decent strike in his home stadium and Alba slapped home when offside but besides that, it was an absolute horror show. A genuine disaster.

They missed all kinds of chances. Headers, right-foot, left-foot… at one point Marco Asensio was sent clean through and rather than slide it home simply (or square it for a team-mate to get a tap-in) he tried to Messi it by looping the ball over the goalkeeper and instead sent it flying over the bar. But he wasn’t the worst culprit, oh no!

Alvaro Morata… what more can you say? Never has a player possessed almost every attribute you would want in a no. 9 except the killer instinct. Morata is fast, he’s strong, his movement is brilliant and intelligent, his hold-up play is so smart and he links with team-mates excellently.

But he finishes like a puppy trying to eat a Rhino carcass. It’s adorable watching him try, but ultimately he doesn’t have what it takes. On the ground he’s sloppy enough but in the air? Oh god. He should have had a hat-trick of headers, yet ended the night with nothing and that very nearly cost Spain dearly.

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