Spain cruise past Costa Rica as they sidestep another shock on day of World Cup upsets

Luis Enrique's men bulldoze South Americans 7-0 in their Group E opening game

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Clearly, Costa Rica didn’t get the memo. After successive days of shock results shook this Fifa World Cup, they were ransacked by Spanish red.

Luis Enrique’s men – although, in Pedri and Gavi they have two of the most precocious teenage talents in the game – cruised to a 7-0 win on Wednesday night. Appearing in a 15th global finals, Spain have never before pillaged as many in a single match.

They were three up after half an hour at Al Thumama Stadium, a first-half blitz not long after Japan upset Germany across Doha and a day after Saudi Arabia’s mighty takedown of Argentina.

No such repeat here. Spain were simply too good, too sly and too slick, buttressed by Sergio Busquets’ ever-calming presence and embroidered with his supposed tyros alongside him. Costa Rica chased shadows. Pedri and Gavi lit up the game. The latter finessed his display with a delicious, outside-of-the-boot volley that registered Spain’s fifth.

Gavi is only three months beyond his 18th birthday; Pedri turns 20 on Friday. They are Barcelona babies, the past two Golden Boy winners, whose ability belies their tender years.

In fielding both, Spain became the first European side to select two teenagers in their starting line-up for a World Cup match since Bulgaria did against England, 60 years ago.

Gavi, who makes Pedri look like a relative pensioner, is now the youngest player to represent Spain in a major international tournament. He was six when Busquets helped his country to their only World Cup title.

Pedri, meanwhile, ran the show in the first half. In creating three chances, it was more than every other player on the pitch. Combined.

On Wednesday, the midfielder, who last November was collecting his award as the best Under-21 in the men’s game, could claim to have supplied the assist for Spain’s first goal.

Some brilliant interchange between teammates left Dani Olmo to exchange a one-two with Pedri and, despite the ball taking a nick off a Costa Rican, the winger controlled beautifully, swivelled, and lifted his shot nonchalantly over the onrushing Keylor Navas.

Eleven minutes were on the clock. Spain should’ve been ahead by even then, but Olmo misplaced woefully his volley from Pedri’s raking pass, and Marco Asensio screwed wide after being teed up by Gavi.

Yet the Real Madrid man atoned 10 minutes later. This time, Asensio executed a sublime first-time shot from Jordi Alba’s square pass. Navas, a former colleague of Asensio’s at Madrid, didn’t have time to adjust himself, his fingertips only brushing the ball.

Asensio, playing at the tip of a fluid frontline, continues his recent rude health with La Roja: in his past eight games, he has three goals and four assists.

Soon, if it wasn’t already, Spain’s victory was secure. On 29 minutes, Oscar Duarte felled Alba from behind in the Costa Rica penalty area and Ferran Torres converted from the spot.

Torres got his second nine minutes into the second half. This time, he was rather fortunate, with the ball falling into his path when his back was to goal. However, he spun swiftly to finish below Navas.

Torres was then withdrawn, together with Pedri, presumably to conserve energy. After all, it’s Germany on Sunday.

Left out on the pitch, Gavi rubber-stamped his night with a fine volley in the 75th minute, meeting substitute Alvaro Morata’s deep cross to guide a sumptuous shot in off the base of the post. Some debut.

All that was left was for another substitute, Carlos Soler, and Morata to round off the result. On 90 minutes, the former reacted quickest to a Navas rebound to sweep into the empty net; Morata, meanwhile, traded passes with Olmo and placed home a lovely left-footed effort.

Poor Costa Rica. Spain had the widest margin of victory in this embryonic World Cup, making the game look ridiculously easy.

To be fair, it had been so comfortable that midfielder Rodri was untested in an unfamiliar role at centre-back. At least he had Manchester City teammate Aymeric Laporte for company.

Impressive, the 2010 champions look well set for a deep run – with an average age of 25, their squad has flair and fitness – even if Costa Rica were some way short of the side who surprised until the 2014 quarter-finals.

Already playing catch-up in Group E, it would’ve felt grim viewing for Germany.

Updated: November 23, 2022, 6:34 PM
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