Euro 2020: Spain storm into last-16 with biggest win of the tournament

Slovakia are thrashed 5-0, which included two own goals, on Wednesday

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This was the day Spain’s perpetual possession was translated into goals. Propelled by the irresistible Pablo Sarabia, they inflicted a thrashing to surge into the last-16 stage. And yet a team long defined by control prospered because of a moment of comedy as Slovakia produced a performance of hideous haplessness.

They scored two own goals. The first was catalytic and farcical. When Spain required a helping hand, Martin Dubravka obliged. He opened the floodgates, pawing the ball into his own net. The 2008 and 2012 European champions had been threatened with elimination. Instead, they delivered the biggest win of Euro 2020.

Only Alvaro Morata missed out. It summed up his fortunes when he came off and his replacement, Ferran Torres, scored with his first touch. The striker’s crisis of confidence continued, the distinctly fallible forward missing a penalty but Spain need not rue his profligacy on this occasion.

They had a solitary strike to show for an average of 80 percent of possession in their opening two games and history briefly threatened to repeat itself until the strangest of the tournament’s many own goals.

Initially, there were hints of the sublime as Sarabia struck the bar with a 20-yard effort. Then came the ridiculous as Dubravka, jumping and facing his own net, contrived to push the ball into it, rather than over the bar.

For him, the cliched journey from hero to villain came in a matter of minutes. Dubravka had saved Morata’s spot-kick, a feat he then rendered redundant with an awful mistake.

Then he spilled Pedro’s through pass, getting caught in no-man’s land as he allowed Gerard Moreno to cross and Aymeric Laporte looped a header in. It was the first international goal for a player who long hoped to play for France.

Spain must hope that rediscovering their scoring touch will spare them shootouts in the knockout stages. Their record from 12 yards is abominable. They have now missed their last five penalties and if Sergio Ramos, who failed twice in the same game last autumn, is not in their squad, they have a lack of takers.

Moreno hit the post against Poland. Luis Enrique nominated Morata to step up this time and his wretched record from the spot duly got worse.

While his effort was at least on target, Dubravka parried it. It was a product of VAR: referee Bjorn Kuipers had initially missed Jakub Hromada kicking Koke when attempting to clear. He reviewed the incident on a pitchside monitor. Morata, whose misses have become a national obsession, must have wished he had not.

But the burden on him was greater when his teammates were not scoring. Now they are. Enrique reaped a reward for bringing in Sarabia. He swept in the third goal from Jordi Alba’s low cross and set up the fourth with a low cross that Torres met with a delightful backheeled flick.

The substitute’s first touch gave him something Morata lacked: a goal. A second Torres, defender Pau, came off the bench and claimed a goal but, summing up Slovakia’s propensity to cause their own problems, the fifth was turned into his own net by Juraj Kucka.

It was the sort of scrappy, scruffy goal Spain rarely score but the important element was that they were fashioning chances. Dubravka twice denied Morata in open play in the first half while Sarabia and Pedri perhaps ought to have converted crosses.

As the goals kept on coming, Spain were relentless. Slovakia were overrun and overcome, a team who had come from a point utterly demoralised when their defensive gameplan became irrelevant.

Their lack of attacking ambition had eventually cost them against Sweden when Emil Forsberg condemned them to defeat. They started with a false nine, in Ondrej Duda, but he and the captain Marek Hamsik were anonymous, and a striker was belatedly summoned at the break. By then, however, it was one-way traffic, with Spain firmly on the route to a last-16 date with Croatia.