TBILISI – There was a shining light for Spain on Friday as La Roja got their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign back on track – 16-year-old Barcelona winger Lamine Yamal.
The teenager brightened the gloom that has descended over Spanish football by becoming the country’s youngest-ever player and scorer as the Spaniards thrashed Georgia 7-1.
On a night of goals, Scotland beat Cyprus 3-0 in the same Group A while Portugal were made to work a bit harder with Bruno Fernandes on target in the 1-0 win in Slovakia.
The build-up to Spain’s match in Georgia was tarnished by the ongoing saga of federation president Luis Rubiales and his forcible kiss on the lips of women’s midfielder Jenni Hermoso, which happened following their World Cup triumph over England in Sydney in August.
In the latest development, Spanish public prosecutors announced on Friday they had filed a lawsuit against Rubiales for sexual assault and coercion.
Off-pitch distractions aside, Spain’s mood in the Euro qualifiers was also not helped by a defeat by Scotland in their second game which had left them fourth in the standings.
But they climbed up to second with a big win in Tbilisi, inspired by an Alvaro Morata hat-trick – although the forward’s treble takes second place to Yamal’s superb first appearance for his country at 16 years and 57 days old.
The youngster came on from the bench with Nico Williams after 43 minutes to replace Marco Asensio and Dani Olmo, who had both suffered knocks, with Spain 4-0 up and cruising.
Yamal finished lethally in the 74th minute to send Spain 7-1 up after Williams found him with a cut-back.
“I’m happy obviously, for my debut and my goal,” he told Spanish broadcaster Teledeporte.
“I’m living in a dream right now. I’m delighted and I thank the players and coach for the confidence they have given me and everyone who has helped me along the way.”
The midfielder broke the previous record of Barcelona teammate Gavi, who was 17 years 62 days when he made his debut against Italy in 2021.
“Lamine surprises you every day. It is incredible that he, at 16 years old, plays with this naturalness,” said Spain coach Luis de la Fuente, who has kept his job after apologising for applauding Rubiales following a defiant speech.
“He does it extraordinarily, he has integrated with the team and also values the importance of (working with) senior players.
“It is a team effort and a family we have here. The result is the result of a lot of work, very well done, and with some wonderful players.”
Morata’s opener in the 22nd minute was followed by Solomon Kvirkvelia’s own goal.
Dani Olmo then drilled the third past Valencia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili in the 38th minute and Morata added the fourth after a slick exchange with Fabian Ruiz.
Giorgi Chakvetadze pulled one back for Georgia before Morata completed his hat-trick, with Williams and Yamal completing the rout.
Spain, who face Cyprus in Granada on Tuesday, remain nine points behind Scotland, who have played two games more but won all five of their matches.
Scott McTominay, Ryan Porteous and John McGinn all struck within the opening half an hour against Cyprus.
Steve Clarke’s men could seal their place in the Finals in Germany with three games to spare should Norway and Georgia draw in Oslo on Tuesday.
“We know we’re close, but we’re not there yet,” said McGinn.
“We need to keep our mature heads on. Only our wee country could mess it up from here, so we need to stay calm.”
In Group J, Bruno Fernandes earned Portugal a fifth consecutive triumph in qualifying as well, his goal securing a slim win over Slovakia in Bratislava.
Roberto Martinez’s side have not conceded a goal, scoring 15, and are five points clear of their opponents who are second after being beaten for the first time.
The Euro 2016 winners host Luxembourg on Monday in their next qualifier. AFP, REUTERS
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