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Men’s football Spain ease past battling Albania in Dusseldorf

Spain 1-0 Albania
by Layth Yousif
at Dusseldorf Arena

LUIS DE LA FUENTE’S side underlined their strength in depth at this tournament by easing past battling Albania on a hot Monday evening in Dusseldorf.

A first half strike by Ferran Torres was enough to seal victory and make it three wins out of three for the Spanish who remain a strong favourite to lift the European Championship title for the first time since 2012.

Despite making ten changes from the side that beat Italy 1-0 in their previous match last Thursday, the Spanish second string were too good for Sylvinho’s side.

Despite being roared on by more than 30,000 passionate Albanians in the Dusseldorf Arena in a crowd of 40,586 – including a mesmerisingly rousing rendition of their national anthem - the side led by the former Arsenal defender could not grab the goal they needed that would qualify the side for the next round. 

With red smoke from the booming Albania contingent barely cleared, Spain nearly went ahead through Espanyol’s veteran 34-year-old forward Joselu, but his header flew over Albania keeper Thomas Strakosha’s bar.

However, Spain’s dominance told moments later, when they went ahead in the 13th minute through 24-year-old Torres.

The Barcelona attacker is nicknamed the Shark, and the talented 24-year-old certainly showed his predatory instincts.

The £55m Nou Camp signing from Manchester City two summers ago, latched onto Dani Olmo’s pass, to slot home past Albania’s Brentford netminder Strakosha.

As the sweltering temperatures in hot and humid northern Germany cooled slightly from the afternoon’s intense heat in this stadium - featuring a fascinatingly brutalist, post-industrial façade – Joselu spurned a chance to double the lead when he headed over five minutes before the interval.

Unbowed, Albania nearly levelled with Kristjan Asllani’s long-range strike, but Arsenal keeper David Raya – in for Unai Simon, La Roja’s No1 choice from Atletic Bilbao – made a superb save to ensure Spain went into the interval 1-0 ahead.

With the temperature still nearly 25C at the break, half time ice creams - rather than currywurst – were the order of the day on such a hot evening.

Sylvinho’s side started as intently as the large number of youngsters studiously devoured their gelatos as a special treat from parents and guardians in the concourse below the pressbox during the break, many wearing traditional woolen qeleshe caps, distinctive white, brimless caps, normally made by skilled artisans.  

After the restart Sylvinho was booked by no-nonsense Swedish referee Glenn Nyberg, before Olmo – who starred in place of PSG’s Fabian Ruiz - nearly scored with a speculative long-range effort that flew past Strakosha’s left-hand post.

Huge cheers came from the vociferous Albanian contingent when Armando Broja replaced Rey Manaj as Sylvinho sought the goal that could change everything for his side.

Substitute Broja would have brought the house down had he equalised for Albania shortly afterwards – were it not for Raya who kept the ball out with 25 minutes remaining.

Albania swept forward but Arber Hoxha failed in his plan to increase productivity by firing over. 

As the clock ticked down Raya again foiled Broja to break proud Albanian hearts – even if the team’s incredible support hailed their heroes at the final whistle.

“We are all free to dream,” De La Fuente said afterwards, adding: “Dreaming is a great engine and we want to generate more positive feelings.”

The result also ensures that England have now qualified for the knock-out stages.

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