MADRID: Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata was left out of Spain’s World Cup squad, announced on Monday.
Morata paid the price for a disappointing debut season in the Premier League as Spain coach Julen Lopetegui picked Iago Aspas and Rodrigo Moreno up front, along with Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa.
“The decision is always difficult because of the talent of the players we have,” Lopetegui said. “We have opted for three other players who had different assets and including four players up front was not something we wanted to do.”
Two more Chelsea players also missed out as Marcos Alonso and Cesc Fabregas were not included in the 23-man group.
Morata’s absence was the stand-out decision, however, even if it was not an entirely surprising one given the 25-year-old’s dramatic dip in form.
After scoring seven goals in his first seven games for Chelsea, a back injury seemed to affect his confidence. Morata has scored only three times in 22 games since the turn of the year.
“I’ve talked to the players I had to talk to,” Lopetegui said. “I’m not going to name anybody, but there are players who had to find out from me that they were not going to be on the list.”
Also left out was forward Victor “Vitolo” Machin of Atletico Madrid. Vitolo had four goals in World Cup qualifying, while Morata had five and was among the team’s top scorers along with Costa, Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and David Silva.
In contrast, Aspas and Moreno have been in excellent form for Celta Vigo and Valencia respectively, with Aspas the top Spanish scorer in La Liga on 22 goals.
“Best of luck in the World Cup,” Morata wrote on Twitter. “I’ll be supporting and cheering through the end, as always.”
Costa is expected to start when Spain open up against Portugal in Group ‘B’ on June 15. Costa, who had a disappointing tournament in Brazil in 2014 as Spain were knocked out at the group stage, has scored seven goals in 18 internationals.
Instead of picking a fourth striker, Lopetegui opted to take eight defenders, including Nacho Monreal, the only other surprise on the list. Alonso and Marc Bartra were among the defenders left out.
“We are sorry that we couldn’t include some of the players who were decisive in qualifying,” Lopetegui said. “Of course, other players deserved to be in the list, like Morata, Bartra, [Asier] Illarramendi and others. There is a long list of players who have helped us but will not go to the World Cup.”
Versatile Barcelona midfielder Sergi Roberto was also omitted while veteran playmaker Andres Iniesta heads to his fourth World Cup along with captain Sergio Ramos.
Isco, Marco Asensio, Nacho Fernandez, Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez are going to the tournament for the first time along with their Real Madrid team-mate Ramos.
Only four Barcelona players are in the Spain squad, down from seven Brazil four years ago.
Goalkeepers: David de Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Kepa Arrizabalaga (Athletic Bilbao).
Defenders: Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Alvaro Odriozola (Real Sociedad), Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea).
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Isco (Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Koke (Atletico Madrid).
Forwards: Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), Rodrigo Moreno (Valencia), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid).
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2018