Mata could add to Spain's bite

Spain midfielder Dani Parejo taking a shot during training. He could be in the starting line-up against Malta for their Euro 2020 qualifier today.
Spain midfielder Dani Parejo taking a shot during training. He could be in the starting line-up against Malta for their Euro 2020 qualifier today.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Getafe's late bloomer among the options as Enrique seeks to solve striking woes in Malta

VALLETTA • The stark contrast between Spain's embarrassment of riches in midfield, which has long been the envy of most European teams, and their well-documented woes up front remains a curious tale.

It is a problem dating back to the 2014 World Cup when then national coach Vicente del Bosque turned to Brazil-born Diego Costa to lead the line.

But the Atletico Madrid striker, excluded from the squad against Malta owing to injury, has never fully convinced in the role, nor the likes of Iago Aspas, Paco Alcacer, Lucas Vazquez and Alvaro Morata.

Their paucity in forward options was again evident in the 2-1 Euro 2020 qualifying opener win over Norway, when Spain needed a Sergio Ramos penalty to edge past Norway on home soil.

The hosts missed a hatful of chances last Saturday, with Morata particularly culpable, and while La Roja are unlikely to be troubled today when they travel to lowly Malta, coach Luis Enrique has a conundrum - that neither del Bosque nor predecessor Julen Lopetegui could solve - on his hands.

While many are expecting the former Barcelona boss to keep faith with Morata, who he defended over the weekend, there could be a place in the team for a second striker, with their opponents not expected to put up much of a fight.

Getafe forward Jaime Mata is a late bloomer, having never played in his country's top flight before this season.

MIDFIELD TALENT

He has been very good, he's an ice-cold player and he is intelligent.

LUIS ENRIQUE, Spain coach, on Valencia midfielder Dani Parejo.

However, as LaLiga's leading Spanish goalscorer this term with 13 goals, the 30-year-old has played an integral role in his fourth-placed side's unlikely push for a Champions League spot.

Having made his international debut from the bench in Valencia, Mata will likely figure in Enrique's thoughts as Spain look to rack up the goals against the likely Group F whipping boys, who have lost all seven of their previous meetings.

Thankfully for the Catalan, creating opportunities has never been an issue for the 2010 World Cup champions, who can call upon the likes of Sergio Busquets, Rodri, Dani Ceballos and Sergio Canales.

Dani Parejo is another player who has staked his claim to be in the starting line-up.

Despite the Valencia midfielder having just a single cap before the Norway meeting, Enrique declared he was "very happy that (Parejo) is with us. He has been very good, he's an ice-cold player and he is intelligent".

The 48-year-old coach also hailed former winger-turned-right-back Jesus Navas, who before the weekend was last capped five years ago, adding: "It's key to have players in a squad that overflow, and he has been at a spectacular level."

XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2019, with the headline 'Mata could add to Spain's bite'. Print Edition | Subscribe