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