Spain have finally found their missing link for domination in Alvaro Morata

The former Real Madrid youngster has had a tough season in Italy, but Kiyan Sobhani says he’s the final piece for Vicente del Bosque’s restoration act. Arsenal, Chelsea: take notes…

Spain of 2008-2012 were masterful. That was a four-year span of unparalleled dominance by a country; one so good that we may not see anything quite like it again in our lifetimes. But when Spain, the defending World Cup champions, plummeted in 2014, many were ready to write them off for their next run in France two years later. 

But others knew that this team was just a tweak or two away from restoring its elite status. 

Dejected players of the Spanish national team after their failure at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Their chances for 2016 success were written off after failure at the 2014 World Cup

In 2014, the Spanish lost the venerable yet regressive spine of Xabi Alonso and Xavi. Their only real striker who linked well with the rest of the team, David Villa, was on the wane and didn’t feature until the final group stage game when la Roja were already out. 

Neither Diego Costa nor Fernando Torres could play as a proper targetman, nor were they providing any fluidity that could mesh with the midfield. The Spanish dynasty was proclaimed to be over – or so they said, anyway.

New thinking 

Morata is the symbol of something fresh for this Spanish team – part of a core of players who have breathed new life into the camp.

The chatter about Spain’s cycle coming to an end was loud, but it didn’t take into account the nation’s youth production, nor did it consider the envious depth that Vicente del Bosque has at his disposal. 

Alvaro Morata, a moderate goalscorer who seemingly stores his net-ripplers for the big moments, has gained momentous experience since 2014 – and looks ready to make the leap as Spain’s next Villa. It’s a role that’s needed filling urgently. 

Now, Del Bosque no longer needs to rely on the bohemian Costa, nor the wandering Torres. In midfield, 29-year-old Nolito – who didn’t even feature in Spain’s historic six-year run – is now an integral part of this team, and even at his age, a fresh injector of direct running on the left flank. Andres Iniesta, still in his peak, binds this team together.

Iniesta applauds the fans after Spain's game at Euro 2016

Iniesta's is the key component to Spain's side

Morata, though, is the symbol of something fresh for this Spanish team – part of a core of players who have breathed new life into the camp. The team looks crisp, and has a good balance of veteran leadership and youth. Mentally they appear calm and confident. 

This team takes a direct approach to their dominance, and as such they look more like the 2008 European Championship-winning side than their 2010-12 death-by-football incarnation. 2014, then, would be the forgotten anomaly – and Morata is a big reason for this. 

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Kingsley Coman France forward, 19

There aren't many 19\-year\-olds who already have four league titles to their name in fact, we'd wager that Coman is the only one. The Frenchman won two Ligue 1 titles at PSG after becoming their youngest\-ever player in 2013, when he made his debut at 16. That was followed by a Serie A crown with Juventus, and now a Bundesliga title at Bayern Munich. Coman may not have been a regular starter in any of those title wins \(though he did start 20 games for Bayern in 2015/16\) but he has shown immense potential in the early stages of his career as an impact player out wide, a role he's likely to fulfil again with France at Euro 2016. The teenager brings pace, skill and a genuine goal threat he scored for the first time at senior international level in March. He's pretty much the most exciting young talent around.

Emre Can Germany central midfielder, 22

Can looks somewhat older than his 22 years, and he often plays with a physicality and maturity that belies his young age. Born to Turkish parents, he grew up in Germany and chose to represent Die Mannschaft at international level joining fellow Turkish heritage star Mesut Ozil in the squad. Can's ability to play in both midfield and defence could be useful for Germany at Euro 2016 and the Liverpool man will only continue to get better as the years go on.

Harry Kane England striker, 22

Few would have predicted two years ago that Kane would be England's main striker at Euro 2016 he'd done little at Premier League level until exploding early in the 2014/15 campaign. The last two seasons have brought 59 goals for Tottenham and five in his first 11 appearances for England. No matter what the competition or the opposition, Kane scores goals. He'll need to do that for Roy Hodgson's men if England are to progress, but few would bet against him now he's established himself as the Three Lions' main man up front.

Breel Embolo Switzerland striker, 19

Confusingly, Embolo played for a club called Old Boys at the age of 11 so we presume he'll probably play for fellow Swiss side Young Boys when he's 45 or something. Now 19, the livewire has emerged as one of the most sought\-after young strikers in Europe since making his first\-team debut for Basel in 2013. Wolfsburg had a 27m bid rejected in January, a sign of just how much potential Embolo has.

Hakan Calhanoglu Turkey central midfielder, 22

Calhanoglu is another player born in Germany, of Turkish origin but unlike Can, he opted to represent Turkey at international level. He's become renowned as arguably the best free\-kick taker in Europe, scoring from fully 50 yards during his days with Hamburg. He has since moved to Bayer Leverkusen and impressed at Champions League level, and recently became the first Turkey player ever to score against England. They'd previously gone 10 matches without finding the net against the Three Lions.

Eric Dier England central midfielder, 22

Dier has had an unusual route to the England team, but he looks to be in with a real shout of starting in a holding midfield role at the tournament. Born in Cheltenham, he moved to Portugal at the age of seven because of the European Championship his mother was offered a job running the hospitality programme at Euro 2004. He was quickly snapped up by Sporting and broke into their first team in 2012, after a loan spell in Evertons U18s side. But Spurs paid 4m to lure him back to England two years ago and he's since established himself as a key man at White Hart Lane, as well as netting the winner for the Three Lions in their friendly victory over Germany in March.

Julian Draxler Germany attacking midfielder, 22

Draxler already has more than 200 senior appearances to his name, but he's still only 22 and could become one of Germany's key men in the future. Right now he's still battling for a place in the starting line\-up but netted nine times in his first season at Wolfsburg after his 25.5m move from Schalke, which came after significant interest from Arsenal and Juventus.

Renato Sanches Portugal central midfielder, 18

One of the hottest prospects in Europe, the midfielder has already agreed to join Bayern Munich from Benfica ahead of this tournament. It's a deal worth 27m, potentially rising to 61m after add\-ons, illustrating just how highly rated the Portuguese star is right now. The dreadlocked ace confirmed that Manchester United also made a bid but said: "I chose Bayern because it's a great club. I'll win titles." Sanches had only one season in the Primeira Liga but did enough in 2015/16 to become the youngest player ever selected by Portugal for a major tournament beating the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2004.

Arkadiusz Milik Poland striker, 22

Milik had trials with Tottenham and Reading at the age of 16 but eventually left Rozwoj Katowice for fellow Polish club Gornik Zabrze, before moving to Germany with Bayer Leverkusen. He made only fleeting appearances with Leverkusen, going on loan to Augsburg and then to Ajax, who signed him permanently a year ago. Since then Milik has gone from strength to strength, netting 24 times during 2015/16. He'll hope to keep scoring at Euro 2016 to help take the pressure off Poland's main man Robert Lewandowski.

Laszlo Kleinheisler Hungary attacking midfielder, 22

Kleinheisler was a surprise call\-up for Hungary's play\-off double header against Norway but he soon became a national hero after netting a stunning winner in the first leg in Oslo, on his debut. It put Bernd Storck's side in control of the tie and helped them secure their first appearance in the European Championship since 1972. Within a couple of months the midfielder had earned a move to Werder Bremen from Videoton in his native Hungary, and he's earned the nickname 'Scholes' largely because of his ginger hair.

Dele Alli England attacking midfielder, 20

Few young players impressed quite as much as Alli during the 2015/16 season. The midfielder was named as the PFA Young Player of the Year after bursting onto the scene in his first campaign in the Premier League, following a move from MK Dons. Alli hit double figures for Tottenham to take them into contention for the title, and he has shown no sign of being overawed on the international stage either he scored a superb goal against France on his first start for England, then played a key role in the Three Lions' win in Germany. He may have only made his international debut in October, but it's now inconceivable that he won't start at Euro 2016.

Bouncing back

Morata's not just a goalscorer, nor simply an aerial threat or target-man. He creates, he has character, and is extremely mobile.

When Spain embarrassed Turkey, the Juventus striker was a menace. In his first match against the Czech Republic, he came in for criticism after a relatively anonymous match. 

Morata was the entire package against Turkey, however, further validating his status as a big-game striker. He bounced back confidently with two goals, linking well with the players hovering around him - Nolito, Iniesta, Juanfran and David Silva. 

Nolito picked out Morata for Spain’s opening goal, and that combination was emblematic of the team as a whole – the duo’s directness balance Silva and Iniesta’s delicacy. Spain’s diversity is what makes them so difficult to deal with.

Morata gives Spain a pulse that his predecessors (see Costa, Torres, Robero Soldado, Alvaro Negredo and Paco Alcacer) have all failed to provide. He’s not just a goalscorer, nor simply an aerial threat or targetman. He creates, he has character, and is extremely mobile. 

He’s just as comfortable making a darting run on the wing to put in a cross – an underrated aspect of his game – as he is finishing off a cross slung into the area. He also drops deep, can play as a second forward, can dribble through tight spaces, and holds up the ball well. 

Spain’s blueprint requires more from its striker than just goals, and Morata is meeting that call. 

Alvaro Morata's dashboard vs Turkey via Stats Zone

More than just a goalscorer, Morata floats throughout the final third and tends to make crosses from the right wing

Big-game battler

Morata’s emergence gives Spain a lifeline not only for 2016, but for the next generation. Aged 23 he has all the attributes to give the national team something no other Spanish striker can currently provide, particularly as the team heads into the knockout rounds and faces other heavy favourites in the competition. 

In the past three years, Morata has showed up in big games – and if that’s anything to go by, we haven’t seen him peak at Euro 2016 yet. When he was just 21, he impressed against Barcelona in El Clasico; the season after, he knocked Real Madrid out of the Champions League semi-finals with a goal at the Bernabeu; this season, he turned in his best game of an otherwise disappointing campaign against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals. 

If Morata’s rise brightly sets up Spain’s future in attack, it also provides an enormous boost right now. Spain’s window with Iniesta – a player who will go down as one of the best ever once all is said and done – is concluding. After this tournament, it might be shut. 

Del Bosque is lucky that Morata’s emergence overlaps with Iniesta’s final blitz, and he’s thankful that his team now has a spearhead after that state of pre-tournament uncertainty. 

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