MALAGA: Spain’s late substitute Joselu 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, while Wales snatched a stoppage-time equaliser to frustrate Croatia.
Spain, who have won their last 23 European home qualifiers, took the lead in the 13th minute through Dani Olmo, who flicked the ball into the bottom corner with the outside of his boot after being set up by defender Alejandro Balde.Norway could have levelled just before the half-hour mark with a powerful first-time shot by Fredrik Aursnes but Spain keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, returning for his first cap since October 2020, showed quick reflexes to parry the ball.
Spain, rebuilding with 61-year-old new manager Luis De la Fuente, 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 in the absence of the injured Erling Haaland and spurned several more chances including from Marcus Pedersen and Alexander Sorloth in the second half.
Spain could only relax however when they doubled their lead in the 84th minute as striker Joselu nodded in a brilliant cross by midfielder Fabian Ruiz three minutes after coming on.
The 32-year-old struck again a minute later to make it 3-0 from a rebound.
He became the first Spain player to score twice on his debut since Fernando Morientes’ double against Sweden in 1998.
“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,” Joselu said.
“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.”
Spain next face Scotland, who saw off Cyprus 3-0 in the other Group ‘A’ match after Scott McTominay scored twice late on as a substitute at Hampden Park, on Tuesday while Norway travel to Georgia.
Meanwhile, Croatia, finalists and semi-finalists at the past two World Cups, conceded a last-gasp equaliser to kick off Group ‘D’ as Wales debutant Nathan Broadhead tapped home a flick-on from a long throw.
“I got a bit overwhelmed to be honest, a bit emotional,” Broadhead, who plays for third-tier Ipswich, told S4C. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.
“We needed a point, we came here to try and win but to get a point is good as well.”
Andrej Kramaric’s low shot from just outside the area had given Croatia the lead in Split against a Wales team beginning life after the retirement of their record goalscorer and captain Gareth Bale.
Luka Modric won his 163rd cap for Croatia, who have never lost a home European Championship qualifier — a run now spanning 36 matches dating back to 1994.
Elsewhere, Turkey came from behind to defeat Armenia 2-1 in Yerevan as efforts from Orkun Kokcu and Kerem Akturkoglu cancelled out an early own goal by former Liverpool defender Ozan Kabak.
Renato Steffen scored a first-half hat-trick as Switzerland thrashed Belarus 5-0 in a game played behind closed doors in Serbia.
UEFA has banned Belarus from playing at home due to the country’s support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Granit Xhaka and Zeki Amdouni, on his second international appearance, added goals in the second half as Switzerland powered top of Group ‘I’.Dennis Man and Denis Alibec were on target as Romania eased to a 2-0 win away to 10-man Andorra, while Israel drew 1-1 at home to Kosovo.
Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2023
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.