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June 16, 2021

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Morata singled out as Spain struggles

Spain’s reserve players jumped from their seats in anticipation when Alvaro Morata found himself with only the goalkeeper to beat inside the Sweden area.

A defender had whipped a cross into the box and the ball fell to Morata’s feet with no one else near him. It was as clear a chance any striker could have asked for, and Morata promptly tried to send a low curling shot past the goalkeeper.

Spain coach Luis Enrique had already started to turn toward the bench to celebrate when he became as stunned as everyone else watching the European Championship match at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville.

Morata’s shot had missed just wide of the post.

And just like that, lack of scoring became an issue for Spain again.

Morata’s teammates also misfired as Spain created chance after chance, but couldn’t get more than a 0-0 draw against Sweden in their Group E opener on Monday.

Spain had also been held scoreless in its warmup match against Portugal, when it also had significant chances and couldn’t get on the board.

“There is no need to overthink it too much,” Luis Enrique said. “We created enough scoring chances to win the match, but we couldn’t capitalize on them. It was something obvious, everyone saw it.”

Morata wasn’t the only one missing chances against Sweden, but he was the one being singled out by Spanish fans and media.

“It’s much better to play when the fans are applauding than when they are jeering,” Spain midfielder Pedri Gonzalez said yesterday. “Morata is feeling well. He is very strong mentally. We know that he is a great player and that he can help us a lot. He knows that the goals will eventually come.”

Morata initially had his named chanted by the crowd, but fans quickly turned against him after the 38th-minute miss in front of the net. The Juventus striker also squandered an opportunity from inside the area early in the second half.

There were loud jeers by part of the crowd when he misplayed a ball near the goal line in what was his last touch before being substituted. There were more boos when he walked off the field to be replaced by Pablo Sarabia in the 66th, although some did applaud to try to support him.

Spain had 17 total attempts against Sweden, with five of them on target. Dani Olmo and Koke Resurreccion were among the players who also missed chances in front of the goal, as did substitute Gerard Moreno, the fan favorite coming off a great season with Villarreal.

Moreno helped lead Villarreal to the Europa League title and was among the Spanish league’s top three scorers this season. Many had expected for him to be the starter for “La Roja” at Euro 2020.

Moreno was loudly cheered by the crowd when he came on in the 74th, but he couldn’t find the net either, seeing his 90th-minute close-range header stopped by Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen.

Luis Enrique will have a few days to decide whether he will stick with Morata in attack or give Moreno a chance from the start. Spain’s next match is on Saturday against Poland, which lost 1-2 to Slovakia in another Group E game on Monday.


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