'Happy' Morata slays Malta

Spain striker Alvaro Morata (in white) playing the ball past Malta defender Zach Muscat to score during the Euro 2020 Group F victory on Tuesday. He also netted the other goal in the 2-0 win to ensure Spain's move to the top of the group.
Spain striker Alvaro Morata (in white) playing the ball past Malta defender Zach Muscat to score during the Euro 2020 Group F victory on Tuesday. He also netted the other goal in the 2-0 win to ensure Spain's move to the top of the group.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Spanish striker bags brace in Euro qualifier, dedicates victory to absent coach Enrique

VALLETTA • Spain coach Luis Enrique put up a vigorous defence of Alvaro Morata after the striker was heavily criticised over the weekend for another wasteful display in their opening Euro 2020 qualifying win over Norway, insisting he had "his best match with us".

And while the former Barcelona boss was unable to take his place in the dugout owing to family reasons, the Chelsea striker, on loan at Atletico Madrid, repaid Enrique's faith in him with a brace as Spain beat Malta 2-0 away on Tuesday to move to the top of Group F.

Afterwards, the 26-year-old, who scored his first goals for the national team since November 2017 to make it 15 goals in 29 appearances, claimed Enrique's absence had given the squad "extra motivation".

Morata, who has now scored more than any other Spanish player between his international debut in November 2014 and 2019, said: "We always want to win every game but today, we wanted to win for our coach.

"He knows how happy I am to be here. What we want is to qualify as soon as possible for Euro 2020 and it was important to win. We won away and we move on."

Athletic Bilbao winger Iker Muniain, who came off the bench, added: "It was a very difficult game and we dedicate this victory to the boss and his family, we did as best as we could and this goes out to him."

Earlier, the Spanish Football Federation had "asked for discretion and respect for his privacy" after Enrique had to return home, with assistant coach Robert Moreno standing in for him.

But despite the "difficult situation", the 48-year-old still ensured his team were well prepared for their opponents and Sergio Ramos praised his meticulousness.

  • 15 Goals Alvaro Morata has scored for Spain, the most for any La Roja player between 2014 and 2019.

    121 Wins Sergio Ramos has enjoyed with Spain, a record he shares with goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

The skipper told Spanish daily Marca: "The group has felt for the coach. In this team, we're all a family and everyone feels each other's personal problems."

The Real Madrid defender, who also equalled Iker Casillas' all-time win record of 121 wins with Spain on the night, is now just four caps shy of tying the goalkeeper's mark for the most number of appearances for La Roja ( 167).

Hailing the former Real custodian and the player he succeeded as club captain as "a living legend", Ramos admitted he had designs on "overtaking his record".

He also told Marca: "Since I started, he had always told me that the only thing capable of overcoming him was a situation like mine.

"You cannot be winning all your life. You have to have good times and bad moments, the changes generate positive things. It won't all be negatives, there is some joy in football."

Spain's next round of Euro 2020 qualifiers will be away to Faroe Islands and at home to Sweden in June.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2019, with the headline ''Happy' Morata slays Malta'. Print Edition | Subscribe