The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Much-changed Spain beat Albania 1-0 at Euro 2024 to finish perfect group stage

Associated Press Tuesday, 25 June 2024, 07:34 Last update: about 23 days ago

Spain changed almost its entire lineup and still kept up its victorious start to the European Championship with a 1-0 win over Albania, which was eliminated on Monday.

With his team already assured of winning Group B, coach Luis de la Fuente changed 10 of his starters and Spain won all three group games at a Euros for the first time since 2008, when it went on to win the tournament.

A 13th-minute goal from Ferran Torres and goalkeeper David Raya's stoppage-time save from Armando Broja ensured Spain completed the group stage without conceding a goal.

“Every player is ready to play in this first 11 and that’s key. Anyone can decide a game for you and players coming off the bench are very important as well,” Torres, who made his first start of Euro 2024, said through a translator. “I will try to make things difficult for my coach so that he will have to play me.”

Torres scored with a deflection off the post from Dani OImo's pass, and put his fingers to his ears in his goal celebration. He said the gesture meant he was listening to the fans, not blocking anything out. “I don’t have anything to prove out there,” Torres added.

Italy was the second qualifier from Group B after drawing with Croatia 1-1.

Albania needed at least a draw to have any hope of qualifying for the knockout stages for the first time, even as one of the best third-place teams. The loss meant it placed last.

Albania's failure to beat Spain meant England, France and the Netherlands were all assured of qualifying for the knockout stages, regardless of what happens in their last group games.

All of those teams were on four points from two games and would qualify at least as one of the best third-placed teams.

Spain got the job done, but this 1-0 win was far less convincing than the victory by the same margin over Italy in its last game. Defender Aymeric Laporte was the only player to start both.

For much of the first half, Spain seemed on course for a big win, but Olmo and Mikel Merino in particular missed good chances. Albania didn’t record a shot until the 45th minute.

Albania finally started to put pressure on Spain midway through the second half. Forward Broja came off the bench and forced a good save from Raya.

De la Fuente responded by sending on forwards Alvaro Morata and Lamine Yamal off the bench as Spain started to waste time. Broja tested Raya again in stoppage time as Spain held on.

“We left it all on the pitch. I have no regrets for my players,” Albania coach Sylvinho said.

Albania was without forward Mirlind Daku, who was suspended by UEFA on Sunday after joining supporters’ nationalist chants with a megaphone following the 2-2 draw with Croatia on Wednesday.

Albania’s soccer federation was fined over incidents at both of its first two games. It looks set to face yet more charges after fans lit flares at the Spain game and a supporter ran onto the field.

Spain will play its last-16 game on Sunday in Cologne against a third-place team.

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