Spain hands Croatia biggest ever defeat

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Spain’s midfielder Marco Asensio (L) celebrates with Dani Ceballos after scoring a goal during the UEFA Nations League A group match against Croatia at the Manuel Martinez Valero Stadium in Elche Tuesday. — AFP

ELCHE — Spain showed its remarkable potential under new coach Luis Enrique by destroying World Cup runner-up Croatia 6-0 Tuesday to hand the visitors their biggest ever defeat and take control of their Nations League group.

Midfielder Saul Niguez scored in his home city of Elche by heading home midway through the first half, giving Spain the lead against the run of play after Croatia had made a bright start and missed two good chances.

The hosts soon increased their lead with two thumping strikes from Marco Asensio, the second of which was given as an own goal to Croatia goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic as it bounced off him after crashing against the crossbar.

Rodrigo Moreno completed a fine team move after the interval before captain Sergio Ramos headed the fifth while a strike from Isco saw Spain become the first team to score six against Croatia as it charged top of League A, Group 4 on six points.

It was also the second time this year that Spain has scored six goals against World Cup runner-up, following their 6-1 win over 2014 finalist Argentina in March.

Spain was in a confident mood after winning its first game under Luis Enrique 2-1 away to England in its Nations League opener Saturday and once it scored the floodgates opened and Croatia was left chasing shadows.

To reach the Nations League finals next June, Spain needs just two points from its remaining two games, at home to England and away to Croatia.

Spain made three changes to the team that won at Wembley, bringing in Valencia defender Jose Gaya and Real Madrid pair Dani Ceballos and Asensio.

Real defender Dani Carvajal made a decisive block early on to thwart Croatia forward Ivan Santini as Zlatko Dalic’s side made a bright start and caused plenty of unease for Spain, who lost 2-1 when the teams last met at Euro 2016 in a group game.

Carvajal also provided the cross from which Saul headed the opener, giving Spain a huge injection of belief and rattling the visitors, who moments later conceded possession in midfield before Asensio smashed the loose ball home from long range.

Croatia lost confidence as Spain dominated possession and picked its opponents off with ease, inflicting biggest defeat on the Croats after a 5-1 loss to England in a World Cup qualifier in 2009.

Lukaku blasts Belgium

to 3-0 win over Iceland

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku scored twice and won a penalty that Eden Hazard converted as they crushed Iceland 3-0 in their Nations League A, Group 2 clash in Reykjavik Tuesday.

Bustling forward Lukaku was bundled over by Sverrir Ingi Ingason in the 28th minute and the referee immediately pointed to the spot, with Chelsea playmaker Hazard calmly sending Hannes Halldorsson the wrong way with the resulting penalty.

Lukaku made it 2-0 to Belgium minutes later, firing a close-range shot on the rebound that was judged to have crossed the line before Birkir Saevardsson managed to clear. The Manchester United striker then added a third with a deft flick nine minutes from fulltime.

Iceland manager Erik Hamren has now lost his opening two games as manager, conceding nine goals in the process, leaving the Nordic nation’s reputation for a miserly defense in tatters.

Hamren made three changes to the side that lost to the Swiss with Runar Sigurjonsson, Emil Hallfredsson and Hordur Magnusson coming in for Rurik Gislason, Gudlaugur Victor Palsson and Bjorn Sigurdarson and his side looked much more stable in the opening exchanges.

Belgium began with nine of the players who started the World Cup third-place playoff win against England in Russia, with the injured Kevin De Bruyne replaced by Dries Mertens. Yet despite missing one of their main playmakers, there was no lack of creativity in the side.

Gylfi Sigurdsson had an early shot deflected as Iceland pressed forward, but once Belgium had taken a decisive 2-0 lead, the hosts struggled to create anything resembling a decent shot on goal.

In contrast the Belgians poured forward, with Thomas Meunier hitting the foot of the post midway through the second half, and Lukaku blazing a late shot over the bar before steering the ball past Halldorsson to complete the rout. — Reuters


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