Wonder kid Lamine Yamal stars in Spain’s 3-0 rout of Croatia

Source: Euro/X

Germany had thrown down the gauntlet on the first night of Euro 2024 action, eviscerating Scotland 5-1. On day two, Spain, champions in 1964, 2008 and 2012, picked it up and ran with it, with a 3-0 rout of Croatia sending the message that a new generation was ready to step up after the underachievement of the past decade. There was also a notable victory for Switzerland against the highly regarded Hungarians, and Albania gave Italy an almighty scare before the defending champions escaped with all three points.

Germany’s five-star display had been illuminated by the dexterous feet of Jamal Musiala, now 21. Spain’s headline-maker was Lamine Yamal, who only turns 17 on the eve of the Euro 2024 final. He played a part in both the second and third goals, and though his inexperience showed at times in the positions he took up, his pace and trickery gave Croatia’s backline a throbbing headache all afternoon.

Alvaro Morata’s seventh European Championships goal – only Cristiano Ronaldo (14) and Michel Platini (9) have scored more – sent Spain on their way in the 29th minute. A delightful through ball from Fabian Ruiz released Morata, with the two centre-backs separated by almost the width of a highway. Dominik Livakovic came out to narrow the angle, but Morata’s low finish was unerring.

Three minutes later, Ruiz went from provider to scorer. Yamal found Pedri, whose square ball found Ruiz at the top of the box. Some nifty Fred Astaire-like footwork later, he arrowed a left-footer through the defender’s legs and into the far corner. On the stroke of half-time, from a short-corner routine, Yamal delivered a sublime curling cross which Dani Carvajal guided home despite being surrounded by five Croatian defenders.

Mateo Kovacic and the Saudi Arabia-based Marcelo Brozovic had chances well saved by Unai Simon in the Spanish goal, and even a second-half penalty for a foul on Bruno Petkovic, one of the substitutes, failed to put Croatia on the board. Simon saved Petkovic’s shot and though Ivan Perisic squared the rebound for Petkovic to tuck away, the Video assistant referee (VAR) would rule it out.

In a bizarre example of how technology is still so dependent on the human element, VAR spotted that Perisic had encroached into the box before the kick was taken, but couldn’t see that Simon didn’t have either foot planted on the line at the moment of contact with the ball. Instead of a retake, the game restarted with a free kick.

This Spanish performance was also a world apart from the old tiki-taka days when Spain would starve the opposition of the ball. On Saturday, Croatia had 54 per cent possession and made 60 more passes, but the touches that mattered all came from Spanish boots.

Embolo comeback goal seals Swiss win

Switzerland settled nerves early with a 12th minute goal from the London-born Kwadwo Duah, whose journeyman career has taken in eight clubs by the age of 27. He timed his run perfectly to apply the finishing touch after a lovely 22-pass move from the Swiss. Hungary were all over the place in the first half, with Dominik Szoboszlai, their captain and talisman, especially disappointing. Just before the interval, a beautiful, curled finish from Michel Aebischer made it 2-0, just reward for a dominant 45 minutes.

Hungary had lost just once in 18 matches before friendly games earlier this month – a run that included notable away wins in England (4-0) and Germany (1-0) – and a Barnabas Varga header from a precise Szoboszlai cross gave them hope. But Breel Embolo, who hadn’t played for the Swiss since the 2022 World Cup, celebrated his return from injury with a gorgeous, chipped finish that sealed all three points.

Barella wonder goal completes brisk Italian turnaround

Italy, now coached by Luciano Spalletti, went behind to the fastest goal in the tournament’s history. Nedim Bajrami, who plays his club football in Italy with Sassuolo, beat Gianluigi Donnarumma at his near post with a rocket of a shot after just 23 seconds. But Italy didn’t panic, and were level when Alessandro Bastoni headed home ten minutes later. The game was won as early as the 16th minute when a loose ball came out to the edge of the area, and Nicolo Barella, coveted by so many clubs, smashed an unstoppable shot past Thomas Strakosha.

Italy now travel half an hour east to Gelsenkirchen and a clash with Spain on Thursday that should decide who finishes top of the group.