MALAGA – Spain’s late substitute Joselu said he felt like an “18-year-old kid again”, after he struck two quick-fire goals on his debut to seal a 3-0 win over Norway in their first Euro 2024 Group A qualifier on Saturday.
It was a promising start for Spain under new coach Luis de la Fuente.
“I have to thank (the coach) for the faith he’s shown in me in his first match in charge. I tried to give my all to reward him,” said the 32-year-old Espanyol forward.
“I still cannot believe it. It’s the best a player can wish for. Hard work pays off, that’s what gives me strength to continue.
“Right now, I feel like an 18-year-old kid again. I don’t think age matters – and this is an incredible day to prove that.”
His coach, 61, added: “He came on with lots of enthusiasm. We’re very lucky to have players like that.
“Joselu has earned the right to be here. He deserved his international debut.”
Spain, who have won their last 23 European home qualifiers, took the lead at Malaga’s La Rosaleda in the 13th minute.
Dani Olmo flicked the ball into the bottom corner with the outside of his boot after being set up by left-back Alejandro Balde.
Norway tried to respond two minutes later when Martin Odegaard’s strike was blocked by Nacho Fernandez, who returned to the Spain team after a near five-year absence.
Odegaard was also on the end of a strong tackle by Rodri, which both he and his coach Stale Solbakken were convinced should have resulted in a penalty.
The Norway and Arsenal skipper told Norwegian broadcaster TV2: “I’m pretty sure I should have had a penalty. He’s coming with his studs right on my ankle.
“But I’m sure I’ll get punished (if I say any more). I don’t bother saying anything else about the referee. It’s better not to say anything.”
Solbakken called French referee Benoit Bastien’s decision to play on “unbelievable”, adding: “It is a clear penalty. He finishes the shot and you can’t (foul him after).
“If I knock someone down after the ball is gone, then it’s a penalty. I get a little bored of this.”
Striker Alvaro Morata was close to doubling their lead in the 25th minute, but the newly appointed Spain captain was seconds late to latch on to a low cross by Olmo.
Norway could have levelled just before the half-hour mark with a powerful first-time shot by Fredrik Aursnes but Spain goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, returning for his first cap since October 2020, showed quick reflexes to parry the ball.
Spain, rebuilding under de la Fuente following a last-16 World Cup exit to eventual semi-finalists Morocco, continued to press as they were less focused on possession and much more on going straight for the opposing goal.
This proved enough against a motivated Norway side, who nonetheless lacked bite up front without the injured Erling Haaland and squandered several more chances, including from Marcus Pedersen and Alexander Sorloth in the second half.
Spain could relax, however, when they doubled their lead in the 83th minute as Joselu nodded in a brilliant cross by midfielder Fabian Ruiz three minutes after coming on.
The substitute struck again two minutes later from a rebound to make it 3-0 for the Euro 2020 semi-finalists.
He became the first Spain player to score twice on his debut since Fernando Morientes against Sweden in 1998.
De la Fuente, who previously managed Spain youth teams and saw them win Under-19 and Under-21 European Championships in 2015 and 2019, was happy with his side’s display.
“Besides, the attitude I’ve seen, the desire to win makes me very optimistic,” he said.
Odegaard, too, saw the positives for Norway, saying: “We kept the ball and tried to play out from the back.
“We created some great chances that we have to put away. We didn’t, and they get goals out of nowhere, really.
“Then it becomes a slightly uglier scoreline than it felt. We did a lot of good things, but we were not sharp enough in front of the goal.”
In the other Group A fixture, Scotland beat Cyprus 3-0 at Hampden Park – thanks to a 21st-minute opener from John McGinn and a late brace by Scott McTominay.
Spain next face Scotland in Glasgow on Tuesday when Norway travel to Georgia. REUTERS, AFP