Nice: It has been a long time coming but Spain look as if they may finally have solved their number nine problems following Alvaro Morata’s two goals in the 3-0 win over Turkey. The result helped the two-time defending champions secure a spot in the tournament’s round of 16 with one match left in the group stage.
The relief was palpable on the face of 23-year-old when he broke the deadlock with a majestic header after the criticism he suffered for his performance against the Czech Republic.
“Two years ago, I was watching on the television and now I’m here,” he said. “The most important thing about this group is the atmosphere and that is reflected on the pitch.”
Even in their most triumphant years, Spain have struggled to find a centre-forward and during Euro 2012, they famously played without a recognised striker as Cesc Fabregas was deployed as a so-called “false number nine.” Since then, coach Vicente Del Bosque has decided that he needs at least one forward but has struggled to find the ideal candidate for what is a notoriously difficult role in a team dominated by midfielders.
During the Euro qualifiers, Morata, Paco Alcacer and Diego Costa were all used but none did enough to win the position outright.
Alcacer finished as topscorer with five goals but missed the trip to France after a loss of form for Valencia, while Costa’s below-par season for Chelsea and a hamstring injury in the run-up to the tournament cost the Brazilian-born striker his place.
Morata has played an important role for Juventus although his scoring rate is modest, with 12 goals in all competitions this season. But he is an unselfish striker who can dribble, lead counter attacks and hold the ball up.
Raised at Real Madrid, he was sold to Juventus two years ago although the Spanish side retained an option to buy him back.
He got off to an inauspicious start in Italy when he suffered a knee injury in his very first training session and was sent off in a fiery win over AS Roma in only his fourth outing.
But he quickly settled down and formed an excellent partnership with Carlos Tevez as Juventus won the league and Cup double and reached the Champions League final.
He clearly missed Tevez this season after the Argentine returned to play in his homeland but gave an outstanding performance in the Champions League match away to Bayern Munich and scored the winner in the Coppa Italia.
There has been speculation over a return to Real Madrid or a move the Chelsea but Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned that he needs to stay put to keep progressing.
“He’s a young lad who needs to stay at Juventus for a few years, he still needs to grow,” said Allegri. “I definitely want to keep Alvaro and the club agrees with me. We’ll do everything to keep him, he must remain in Turin.”
“We were able to score, which had been a problem,” Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque said. “It’s good to have this confidence in front of the goal, to be able to score goals like this. We were effective. We can’t do everything else right and not finish.”
Spain dominated from the start in the first match against Czech Republic, but needed a late header by defender Gerard Pique to earn a 1-0 win after the strikers struggled to find the net.
Spain 3 Turkey 0
(Alvaro Morata 34,48, Nolito 37)