Spain turn to Asensio for crucial Italy clash

MADRID • Spanish football's golden boy Marco Asensio will carry the expectation of a nation, as La Roja face Italy today at the Santiago Bernabeu with World Cup qualification on the line.

Despite his tender age of 21, there is little evidence Real Madrid's rising star will be fazed by the burden placed upon him.

Asensio looks set to make his first competitive start for Spain after a stellar opening to the season in which he has scored four goals in five games for Real, including two wonder strikes against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup.

And he has a habit of making a quick impression, having scored on his LaLiga, Champions League, Copa del Rey, Spanish and Uefa Super Cup debuts for Real over the past year.

"It is obvious, he has an innate talent, you can sense it," said Real and Spain captain Sergio Ramos .

"Hopefully he maintains that spark and eye for goal. Every time he plays he makes the difference."

Many of the Italian squad, including goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, have bad memories of Asensio as he came off the bench to score as Real hammered Juventus 4-1 to retain the Champions League title in June.

Asensio has had to wait for his opportunity at full international level, so far winning just three caps and playing only 10 minutes of competitive action in an 8-0 rout of Liechtenstein.

However, his reputation as one of football's rising stars continued as he helped Spain reach the final of the Under-21 European Championship in June, scoring three stunning goals from outside the area against Macedonia along the way.

Asensio's form and the public clamour for his inclusion leaves Spain coach Julen Lopetegui little option, but to include him for a decisive clash to decide who between the former world champions will qualify directly for next year's World Cup in Russia.

Both sides are tied on 16 points atop Group G of European qualifying, with second place only good enough for a perilous two-legged play-off in November.

A 1-1 draw in Turin last October and a superior goal difference means a draw would leave Spain still in the driving seat with three more qualifiers to come.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2017, with the headline 'Spain turn to Asensio for crucial Italy clash'. Subscribe