Lamine Yamal described his historic Euro 2024 bow as a "dream" after Spain hammered Croatia 3-0 in their Group B opener on Saturday.

Starting at the age of 16 years and 338 days, Yamal became the youngest player to ever feature at the European Championships, and he rewarded Luis de la Fuente's faith with a terrific performance.

The Barcelona winger saw his inviting cross prodded home by Dani Carvajal for La Roja's third goal, after Alvaro Morata and Fabian Ruiz had put them in control.

Only fellow youngster Pedri matched his total of three chances created, while he led all players for crosses (three) and saw his three successful dribbles equalled only by Dani Olmo.

Speaking after the game, Yamal said of Spain's fine display: "We trust ourselves a lot. We went out to give it our all, because three points already does a lot in the group stage.

"It's a dream. I'm very happy to have played in the European Championship.

"The team is very confident. Now we have to go all out against Italy. Nothing changes for one game. We go with the same confidence. The work of these last few months has been reflected today."

Spain are now in the driving seat in a group many regard as the toughest at the tournament ahead of facing Italy and Albania.

Captain Morata moved to seven European Championship goals with his opener, with only Cristiano Ronaldo (14) and Michel Platini (nine) ever scoring more.

Morata later seemed to be holding his leg in discomfort when he was withdrawn for Mikel Oyarzabal, but the striker has assured fans he will be fit to face Italy on Thursday.

"It was important to start like this," Morata said. "We pressed a great team very well. We must go for the games from the start and now think about the next one."

On the knock he suffered in the second half, he said: "It was just a blow, I was loading other parts of my leg. 

"The best thing was to go out and have another team-mate play better."

Spain sent out a statement in their opening game at Euro 2024 by thrashing Croatia 3-0 in Berlin, with Lamine Yamal assisting as he became the competition's youngest-ever player to feature.

La Roja claimed a 5-3 extra-time victory when these sides met in the last 16 at Euro 2020, but they enjoyed a far more serene outing on Saturday.

Fabian Ruiz released Alvaro Morata to put them ahead after a quiet start, then some clever footwork led to the midfielder's deflected strike beating Dominik Livakovic three minutes later.

Luis de la Fuente made Yamal the Euros' youngest-ever player at the age of 16 years and 338 days, and he rewarded his coach by assisting Dani Carvajal's third on the stroke of half-time.

Croatia looked a shadow of the team that took bronze at the 2022 World Cup and saw a potential consolation chalked off late on, Ivan Perisic being punished for encroachment as he teed up Bruno Petkovic on the rebound from the forward's saved penalty.

The opening exchanges were low on excitement as Spain struggled to combine their patient approach play with penetration, but Fabian provided the telling pass after 29 minutes.

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder split the Croatia centre-backs with an excellent throughball, allowing Morata to race clear and finish left-footed.

Fabian doubled Spain's advantage shortly afterwards. Receiving the ball from Pedri on the edge of the box, he turned Luka Modric before seeing his low drive take a slight deflection on its way into the bottom-right corner.

Croatia sought a response as Unai Simon denied Marcelo Brozovic and Josko Gvardiol volleyed wide, but their troubles deepened in first-half stoppage time, Carvajal pouncing to prod Yamal's inviting cross home.

Yamal could have had a goal to go with his assist seven minutes after the break, but Livakovic made a stunning save to keep his left-footed strike out.

Marc Cucurella made a brave last-ditch block to keep out Josip Stanisic's shot, and Croatia were denied a consolation in bizarre circumstances with 10 minutes remaining.

Simon's mistake led to Rodri pushing Petkovic over in front of a gaping goal, and though the Croatia substitute saw his spot-kick saved, he tapped home Perisic's left-sided cross on the rebound.

However, a VAR review showed Perisic was encroaching, so Petkovic's late finish was disallowed to cap a miserable start for Croatia.

Much-maligned Morata climbs the charts

Euro 2020 was a tournament to forget for Morata, who scored three goals but missed more big chances (six) than any other player before fluffing his lines from the spot as Spain were beaten on penalties by Italy in the last four.

However, Morata came into this tournament on the back of his joint-most prolific campaign in Europe's top five leagues, netting 15 times for Atletico Madrid in LaLiga, and he carried that form into Saturday's Group B opener.

He now has seven goals at the Euros overall (three in 2016, three in 2020, one in 2024), with only Cristiano Ronaldo (14) and Michel Platini (nine) bettering that tally.

Morata is also just the second Spanish player to reach double figures for goals at major tournaments, with 10. David Villa – their leading goalscorer at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup – netted 13.

Youth trumps experience

As Spain made Yamal the youngest player in Euros history, Croatia skipper Modric – aged 38 years and 280 days – became the oldest outfielder to appear at the tournament since Germany's Lothar Matthaus against Portugal in 2000 (39 years, 91 days).

Far from replicating Toni Kroos' metronomic performance in Germany's 5-1 rout of Scotland on Friday, Modric struggled to get a foothold against Spain's cultured midfield trio and was found wanting as Fabian turned him to score La Roja's second.

Veteran Modric and his team-mates struggled to get close to Yamal over on the Spain right, and it was an experienced Spanish campaigner who benefitted from the teenager's creativity.

While Yamal became the youngest player to assist in the history of the Euros, Carvajal became the oldest player to score for Spain at the competition, aged 32 years and 156 days.

No tournament is complete without a 'group of death'. 

Euro 2024 may have two, with France and the Netherlands looking to fend off a challenge from Austria in Group D, while heavyweights Spain, Croatia and Italy battle it out in Group B.

It's Spain and Croatia who get the latter pool under way on Saturday, facing off in a huge tussle at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

La Roja are the only team to win back-to-back editions of the Euros, achieving that feat in 2008 and 2012, yet they have only won two knockout ties across five major tournaments since that latter triumph.

Luis de la Fuente's team did, however, win the 2022-23 edition of the Nations League, overcoming Croatia on penalties in the final. Spain also memorably eliminated Zlatko Dalic's team from Euro 2020, winning an eight-goal thriller in the last 16.

Spain may have previous against Croatia, but few will be writing Dalic's team off following their third-place finish at the 2022 World Cup, at which an ageing but supremely talented side used all their big-game know-how to eliminate Brazil.  

The result of Saturday's game could go a long way to deciding both teams' fates in a group that could easily see a giant fall. Here, we use Opta data to preview the game.

What's expected?

The Opta supercomputer makes Spain favourites for this one, but La Roja's win percentage of 50 per cent suggests the outcome is far from a foregone conclusion.

Croatia were victorious in 24 per cent of match simulations conducted by the supercomputer, with 26 per cent ending level and potentially handing the initiative in the group to Italy.

There will certainly be plenty of familiarity between these two sides. Indeed, Spain and Croatia are facing each other at a fourth successive edition of the Euros.

That has only previously occurred on one occasion, when Spain and Italy met in four straight editions between 2008 and 2020. They will, of course, do battle at a fifth successive tournament when they square off in Gelsenkirchen on June 20.

La Roja have won two of their previous three encounters with Croatia (5-3 at Euro 2020, 1-0 at Euro 2012), while they were beaten 2-1 at Euro 2016.

If recent history is anything to go by, an entertaining affair could be in the offing. 

Three of the last five meetings between Spain and Croatia have contained at least five goals, and the most recent – a 5-3 extra-time win for La Roja three years ago – is the second-highest scoring game in Euros history, after France 4-5 Yugoslavia in 1960.

The supercomputer makes Spain Group B favourites with a 47.3 per cent chance of finishing top, to Croatia's 18 per cent, Italy's 29 per cent and Albania's 5.6 per cent.

With four third-place finishers reaching the last 16, La Roja (89.1 per cent), Italy (80.3 per cent) and Croatia (67.8 per cent) are all expected to progress.

Can Spain add punch to possession play?

At Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, Spain won plenty of admirers for their patient, possession-based style, with Gavi and Pedri hailed as generational talents.

However, their approach did not win them enough matches. La Roja scraped past Switzerland on penalties at Euro 2020 before going out to Italy on spot-kicks, while a bold rearguard action from Morocco dumped them out in the first knockout round in Qatar. Before that, a shock defeat to Japan almost sent them out in the group stage.

Their patient approach is nothing new. Spain have had more possession than their opponents in each of their last 136 competitive games, last seeing less of the ball when they beat Germany with 46 per cent of the play in the Euro 2008 final.

They have also attempted 1,000 or more passes in four separate World Cup matches but only won one of those, beating Costa Rica 7-0 in Qatar.

Their last 50 Euros goals have all been scored from inside the area, with their last strike from outside the box coming via Real Madrid great Raul, against Slovenia in 2000's group stage.

De la Fuente will not stray too far from Spain's identity, despite Gavi missing the tournament due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

The key to their success will be adding punch to their patient build-up play, and wide duo Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams could hold the key in that regard.  

Williams (second, 191) and Yamal (fourth, 141) both ranked among the top four players for dribbles attempted in LaLiga last season, also ranking third and fifth respectively for carries ending in a take-on (Williams 97, Yamal 82).

Athletic Bilbao's Williams has six goal involvements (two goals, four assists) in 13 senior appearances for Spain, while Yamal will become the youngest player in Euros history as long as he gets an outing before the final, which is one day after his 17th birthday. Few nations boast a pair of wingers as exciting as the Roja duo.

Tournament specialists set up to surprise

As is the case with Spain, control has long been the name of the game for Croatia, yet many would argue they do it with a level of savviness that deserted La Roja long ago.

At the 2022 World Cup, only Spain (135) recorded more sequences of 10 or more passes than Croatia, with Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic pulling the strings in midfield. 

Brozovic (509) and Modric (484), as well as centre-back Josko Gvardiol (505), ranked among the six players to play the most passes in Qatar, with Rodri out in front with 676 despite only playing four matches.

It was not everyone's cup of tea as Croatia relied on the penalty shoot-out heroics of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic in their two knockout triumphs over Japan and Brazil.

Despite playing the full seven games, they only ranked seventh in the tournament for expected goals, their 7.05 xG some five fewer than Brazil, who managed 12.08 xG in five games.

But it was not simply a case of Croatia playing keep-ball until they could show their nerve from the spot. Dalic's team led everyone at the tournament for high turnovers (59), shots from high turnovers (10) and pressed sequences (109).

Andrej Kramaric, Lovro Majer and Ante Budimir are all comfortable doing the dirty work up top, and the latter was on target as Croatia scored an impressive friendly win over Portugal on Saturday – admittedly with Cristiano Ronaldo rested.

Difficult to beat and comfortable in transition and in possession, Croatia deserve their reputation as tournament specialists. Spain will underestimate them at their peril.

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Spain – Alvaro Morata

Missed opportunities have been a theme for Spain at recent tournaments. At Euro 2020, Morata missed more big chances (six) than any other player and also fluffed his lines as La Roja were beaten on penalties by Italy in the last four.

However, after enjoying the joint-most prolific campaign of his career in Europe's top five leagues, scoring 15 goals for Atletico Madrid in LaLiga, Morata will be trusted to shoulder the goalscoring burden again.

 

He ended a five-match goal drought for his country as Northern Ireland were routed 5-1 in a warm-up friendly last week, and though he has his detractors, he has tournament pedigree.

Only Ronaldo (eight) and Antoine Griezmann (seven) have scored more goals than Morata's six across the last two editions of the Euros.

Croatia – Luka Modric

Modric personifies Croatia's measured approach, and despite playing a reduced role for Real Madrid in 2023-24, he will be their key man again at this tournament.

The 38-year-old only started 18 games in LaLiga last term, yet he ranked ninth in the league for total passes in the opposition half, with 923.

Among players with at least 15 starts, he ranked fourth for chances created per 90 minutes (2.94), joint-fourth for open-play chances created (2.14) and seventh for passes into the final third (10.9).

Modric versus Rodri and Pedri could be the most watchable midfield battle of the group stage.

Alvaro Morata has been named Spain's new captain ahead of Luis de la Fuente's first match in charge, with the new coach seeking the "security and confidence" of a strong start.

It is all change for Spain following the 2022 World Cup, with previous skipper Sergio Busquets retiring and De la Fuente replacing Luis Enrique as boss.

Morata is left as the most experienced player in the former Spain Under-21 coach's first squad and was confirmed as captain ahead of their first Euro 2024 qualifier against Norway on Saturday.

"It's a pride and a joy," Morata said in a news conference. "I'm looking forward to things going well and winning. I'm here to help the younger ones."

The Atletico Madrid striker has been enthused by what he has seen from De la Fuente so far – and he believes he is not alone in that sense.

"I have been with different coaches and I see everyone very excited," Morata added. "He likes to give affection to his players and work hard.

"We all have to win from playing and competing. The ticket for a European Championship and a World Cup is not easy, and we are all clear about what is important for us and that we have to always be at these tournaments."

De la Fuente is "enjoying and living an incomparable experience", but he knows the importance of the result against Norway.

"Any project has to start well," the coach said. "It's not all about getting off to a good start, but I'd like to.

"It would give us more security and confidence. We are sure of that."

Spain's hopes of that first win have been boosted by the absence of Norway's superstar striker Erling Haaland, out with a groin injury.

De la Fuente added: "I'm very sorry for any footballer's injury. It is the ugly face of this sport. We also have injuries.

"That said, to say I'd like to see Haaland on the field tomorrow would be lying."

Antoine Griezmann starred as Atletico Madrid returned to winning ways in LaLiga with a 3-0 victory over Real Valladolid.

Three goals in 10 first-half minutes at the Civitas Metropolitano put Diego Simeone's side in control en route to their first league victory of 2023.

Griezmann's stellar assist set up Alvaro Morata's opener, with the France international then adding his own name to the scoresheet with a cheeky finish.

It was also Griezmann's delivery that led to Mario Hermoso firing home on the rebound as Los Colchoneros set down a marker in the fierce battle for a top-four finish.

Morata started brightly and opened the scoring in the 18th minute, deceiving a defender with a feint and slotting past Jordi Masip after Griezmann's outrageous backheel.

The hosts doubled their advantage five minutes later as Griezmann flicked Nahuel Molina's driven cross beyond Masip at the near post.

Hermoso soon added a third, blasting in from close range after his initial header from Griezmann's free-kick was parried by the goalkeeper.

Thinking ahead to the midweek Copa del Rey clash with Real Madrid, Diego Simeone shuffled his deck before the hour, and the introduction of Barcelona-linked Yannick Carrasco drew jeers from sections of the crowd.

But Atletico continued to threaten, Koke hitting the crossbar and Angel Correa seeing a low drive strike both posts.

Memphis Depay, making his debut after joining from Barca, was introduced for a 15-minute cameo as Atletico ultimately coasted to a straightforward victory that puts them three points clear of the chasing pack.

Memphis Depay will find happiness at Atletico Madrid and be welcomed with open arms, according to Alvaro Morata.

The Spain striker's 54th-minute strike and Marcos Llorente's cool late finish saw Diego Simeone's side into the Copa del Rey quarter-finals with a 2-0 victory at Levante on Wednesday.

Atleti were somewhat uninspiring for large parts against second-tier Levante, though, not registering a shot on target until Morata swept into the bottom-left corner.

Simeone has sought to ease some of those attacking struggles with the imminent arrival of Depay, who will reportedly join from Barcelona on a five-and-a-half-year deal.

Morata looks forward to linking up with Depay, who Atleti are reportedly paying just €4million for, as Simeone's side battle for a place in LaLiga's top four.

He told TVE: "Depay is a top player. Welcome; Atletico is a place where you will surely be happy. We look forward to welcome with open arms anyone who comes to help."

Atleti were fortunate to be level at the break at Levante after an underwhelming first-half performance, but Morata says the result is all that mattered as Simeone's men chase a first Copa del Rey triumph since 2013.

"Levante have shown that they are a great team, they have played a good game," he continued. 

"Any game is difficult in this competition, especially away from home. What we do is work. Sometimes things don't go as we would like, but the important thing is that we are in the next round."

Atletico are fourth in LaLiga, ahead of Villarreal and Real Betis on goal difference, and Depay could make his debut at home to Real Valladolid on Saturday.

Atletico Madrid were far from their best but progressed to the Copa del Rey quarter-finals after Marcos Llorente scored one and assisted another in a 2-0 victory at Levante.

Diego Simeone's side have won just one of their last six LaLiga games and their recent struggles were evident despite victory over second-tier Levante on Wednesday.

Atletico's first shot on target in the 54th minute through Morata opened the scoring after Llorente's cross before the midfielder sealed progression with a calm stoppage-time finish.

The LaLiga side await the identity of their next opponents in Friday's last-eight draw as they aim for a first Copa del Rey crown since 2013.

Alex Munoz finished into an empty net when Jan Oblak fumbled after 25 minutes, yet the goalkeeper's blushes were spared as a free-kick was awarded for Mohamed Bouldini's heavy aerial challenge.

Bouldini arrowed a fizzing left-footed effort narrowly over soon after as an underwhelming Atletico failed to impose themselves on a first half devoid of quality.

However, a touch of class after the restart brought the opener as Antoine Griezmann danced through the middle before finding Marcos Llorente, who rolled across for Morata to finish into the bottom-left corner.

Oblak intervened at a crucial moment when Bouldini appeared positioned to net an equaliser, before a sweeping counter-attack at the other end ensured victory for Atletico.

Griezmann orchestrated the break from inside his own half before Nahuel Molina played in Llorente, who slotted a right-footed finish past Joan Femenias.

What does it mean? Atleti's silverware hopes rely on Copa del Rey

Out of Europe after finishing bottom of Champions League Group B and 13 points adrift of LaLiga leaders Barcelona, Atletico's quest for silverware relies solely on the Copa del Rey.

Simeone's side are yet to face a top-flight side in this competition, although they have battled past Almazan, Arenteiro, Real Oviedo and Levante with relative ease.

However, with Real Madrid and Barcelona – who face Ceuta and Villarreal respectively on Thursday – still in the competition, Atletico will have to improve to lift their first Copa del Rey in 10 years.

De Paul controls the game

Atletico were not especially impressive but maintained control with the help of Rodrigo De Paul.

The Argentina midfielder, appearing in his first game since lifting the World Cup in Qatar, enjoyed the most touches (97) and most successful passes (70) of any player while winning all of his five duels.

Livewire Bouldini blunted

Bouldini was a constant livewire up top as he acted as a nuisance for Atletico's centre-back partnership of Mario Hermoso and Stefan Savic.

The Levante forward attempted four shots and contested a remarkable 21 duels – both marks the most of any player – though his hard-working ethic did not make up for his or Levante's lack of quality in front of goal.

What's next?

Atletico return to LaLiga action at home to Real Valladolid on Saturday.

Manchester United are set to be busy in the January transfer window following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit in November.

Erik ten Hag's side are in the market to bolster their forward options, having already been linked to a host of players.

But United look set to settle for short-term loan deals with little money available for a transfer fee, limiting their options.

TOP STORY – MAN UTD INTERESTED IN EX-CHELSEA FLOP MORATA

Manchester United have turned their attention to signing Spain international forward Alvaro Morata on loan, according to ESPN.

United missed out on signing Cody Gakpo, who has joined Liverpool, while they face stiff competition to land Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix along with a reported total package worth €22million for six months.

The report claims the Red Devils are hoping Atletico are willing to listen to loan offers, with the 30-year-old having been loaned to Juventus this season.

ROUND-UP

– Media Foot claims Manchester United and Tottenham have both commenced talks with Rennes on £34m-valued striker Martin Terrier.

Chelsea are rapidly closing in on a deal for 21-year-old Monaco defender Benoit Badiashile, according to CBS' Ben Jacobs, with personal terms agreed.

– The Athletic reports that Chelsea have taken positive steps in talks with N'Golo Kante on re-committing to the club on a new deal. Kante's contract expires in June and he has been linked with several clubs in the January transfer window, including Barcelona .

Manchester City will offer Milan forward Rafael Leao a contract worth €12m per season as they bid to lure him to England in January, claims TuttoMercatoWeb.

Borussia Dortmund have joined the race to sign Juventus' United States international midfielder Weston McKennie, according to Tuttosport, with the German club viewing him as a suitable replacement for Jude Bellingham.

– PSG defender Sergio Ramos is being pursued by Saudi Arabian outfit Al Nassr, claims Marca. Al Nassr are trying to convince Cristiano Ronaldo to join the club, which is their priority move.

Alvaro Morata did not realise he had scored Atletico Madrid's second goal against Elche as they snapped a three-game winless run in LaLiga with a 2-0 victory on Thursday.

The Spain international was on hand to score for the Rojiblancos after Joao Felix had given them the lead at the Metropolitano to deliver three points for Diego Simeone's side.

But Morata did not initially believe he had finished his effort, after going to ground following a challenge as he shaped to shoot.

His finish arced over Edgar Badia and in, with the forward not realising until he saw team-mate Antoine Griezmann's celebrations.

"I was on the ground and I thought it had been a goal for Griezmann," he told Movistar. "I thought that after the rebound, he had scored.

"It was important to win. Especially in our stadium, we want the fans to have a good end to their year. We thank them for our support."

Simeone concurred on the crucial nature of his side's result, while also praising 19-year-old Pablo Barrios after the midfielder impressed on his first LaLiga start.

"We were looking to do damage," he added. "When we found our first goal, it gave us piece of mind. I'm heading home happy with the work and effort from the whole team.

"We showed desire. It is time to continue working with humility. As for Pablo, when a boy like him plays, you have to accompany him. You have to lead him in the best way, so as to not rush him. Football has no age."

Gavi is retaining faith in Spain's style of player even if the impressive teenage star knows La Rojo must learn from the mistakes made against Japan when they face Morocco in the last 16 of the World Cup.

Spain were on course to top Group E when Alvaro Morata headed an early opener on Wednesday, but goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka helped the Samurai Blue leapfrog their opponents in stunning fashion.

For three incredible minutes, Spain even looked set to join Germany in making an early exit as Costa Rica briefly occupied second place.

Spain ultimately survived despite seeing their seven-match unbeaten run (excluding shoot-outs) at the World Cup halted, and Gavi says Tuesday's game represents a chance to right some wrongs.

"The match against Japan has to serve as a lesson for what is to come. Luckily, that defeat has been resolved and we are clear about what we have to do," Gavi told Marca.

"We are in the round of 16 and there are some very good teams that haven't been able to do it. That's why we have to really think that pressure is a privilege."

Spain completed 2,489 passes in their group-stage campaign, their most at a single tournament on record (since 1966), while their tally of 969 passes against Japan was a record for a losing team at the tournament.

While Morocco showed their counter-attacking quality to claim four points from games against Croatia and Belgium, Gavi believes Spain must stick to their principles.

"We are not going to lose focus on the goal, which is to win the World Cup," he added. 

"We are going to look for it by being faithful to what we have been doing all these years. It would be a mistake to give up everything we believe in."

Morocco are featuring in the knockout stages of a World Cup for just the second time, having been beaten at this stage by West Germany in 1986.

The Atlas Lions are chasing a slice of history on Tuesday, when they could match the longest unbeaten run managed by an African side at the World Cup – currently Cameroon's five-game sequence between 1982 and 1990.

After a 2-1 win over Canada ensured Morocco topped Group F, coach Walid Regragui called for his side to aim high.

"We didn't come just to say 'oh, we almost got close'," he said. "We need to get the results as all the European or South American teams do. We need to emulate them."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Morocco – Hakim Ziyech 

While Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd are likely to be busy in the Morocco backline, Regragui's men will carry a threat at the other end – chiefly through Chelsea creator Ziyech.

Ziyech has played more passes into the box (17) and created more chances (4) than any other Morocco player at the World Cup, as well as leading his team-mates for ball carries (43) and combined distance carried (477.6 metres).

While Ziyech's counter-attacking prowess is clear, he also scored his first World Cup goal last time out, and the 29-year-old could be a thorn in Spain's side.

Spain – Alvaro Morata

While Barcelona playmakers Gavi and Pedri have stolen the headlines for Spain in Qatar, fine margins can often decide knockout games – and Morata's contribution could be key. 

Though maligned by some, Morata has been consistent in front of goal at this tournament, hitting the net on each of his three appearances despite playing a total of just 126 minutes.

Morata started two of Spain's three knockout games at Euro 2020 last year, and if he can reward Luis Enrique's faith with another goal, he will join David Villa as just the second Spanish player to score in four consecutive World Cup matches.

PREDICTION

Spain have never lost in their three previous meetings with Morocco (W2 D1), and Opta's prediction model makes them strong favourites to advance to the last eight, giving them a 61.3 per cent chance of victory.

However, Morocco did claim a 2-2 draw in the teams' only previous World Cup contest in 2018, and a repeat – which would mean extra-time and potentially penalties – is given a 24 per cent chance. 

The Atlas Lions have provided one of the great underdog stories of this tournament, but their chances of an historic victory are rated at just 14.7 per cent, making them big outsiders.

Goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka helped Japan reach the World Cup last 16 as Group E winners with a remarkable 2-1 victory over Spain, with La Roja joining them as Germany were dumped out.

With both sides knowing a win would see them advance, Spain wasted little time in hitting the front as Alvaro Morata headed beyond Shuichi Gonda for his third goal of the tournament early on.

However, Spain failed to capitalise on their huge dominance of possession as Japan turned the game on its head with a quickfire second-half double, Doan firing home from range before Tanaka bundled in a second.

Spain were briefly on their way out of the World Cup when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany in the group's other fixture.

But Germany's late comeback in a 4-2 win ensured La Roja survived an incredible finale to go through as runners-up.

Alvaro Morata would be content to start each of Spain's World Cup games on the substitutes' bench if it meant La Roja won the tournament.

Atletico Madrid striker Morata has come off the bench in both of his country's games in Qatar so far, scoring in the win over Costa Rica and the draw with Germany.

Those four points mean Luis Enrique's side need only a point against Japan on Thursday to qualify for the knockout stage.

Should he not be selected in the starting XI for that match, Morata insists he will have no complaints and will gladly cheer his team-mates on.

"At club level you've got more time to train, more space, and obviously, you want to play," he told Onda Cero. "But here, I can assure you that it doesn't bother to me at all [to be a substitute].

"In fact, if I had to choose coming on from the bench in all the games, or even not playing, but the team wins the World Cup, I would sign up for it. I would cheer the team on from the bench.

"In the end, we have a goal, a dream, and all of us feel important. Everyone is important in different ways. All of us are important and everyone has his function.

"Many players who don't play can be the ones who give more to the group. Historically, it has been like that in the national team.

"I always give an example to the people that want to play but don't play as much as they want. They have to look at Pepe Reina and Iker Casillas.

"They were here [previous World Cups] without playing, but they always gave their best, so they are examples to follow, and they got the credit that they deserved, whether they played or not."

Morata is Spain's joint-fifth highest scorer of all time with 29 goals, yet he has often been criticised by supporters.

The 30-year-old admits he has spent too much time listening to other people's opinions of him, but says his own criticism has been the most damaging.

"I enjoy doing my job," he added. "People can call me crazy, but I have spent maybe eight or nine years of a career that can last 15, thinking about what, how, and when people say.

"A person has to be happy as he is, assume the good and bad things, and don't let anyone take away your happiness.

"If there is one thing I regret in my professional career and in my life, it is having been my own worst enemy many times."

Alvaro Morata says there will be no complacency from Spain when they attempt to seal a place in the World Cup round of 16 against Japan after a 1-1 draw with Germany.

Morata came off the bench to score his second goal of the tournament to put La Roja in front at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, but substitute Niclas Fullkrug salvaged a point with a late equaliser for Germany.

Group E leaders Spain only need a point against Japan next Thursday to qualify, while Germany must beat Costa Rica and hope Luis Enrique's side can do them a favour.

All four teams can still qualify from the group following Costa Rica's 1-0 win over Japan, with Germany bottom following their shock 2-1 loss to the Samurai Blue on Wednesday.

Striker Morata stressed there is no chance Spain will take Japan lightly at Khalifa International Stadium.

"Japan is a tough team, they run a lot, they are good tactically. It's another tough game, it's a World Cup." he said.

The Atletico Madrid frontman says he has no problem with being among the substitutes again after also finding the back of the net in a 7-0 rout of Costa Rica.

"We are on the bench for this [to score]. Germany are a great team, this match could have been a semi-final or final in the World Cup," he said.

"It's the same [starting of being a substitute], the most important thing is to win. They scored an amazing goal, so we didn't have the victory, but we keep training and pushing with good vibes and positivity."

Morata has scored eight goals at European Championships and World Cups, at least double the amount of any other player for Spain since 2016.

 

Niclas Fullkrug came off the bench to salvage a first Qatar World Cup point for Germany as they held Spain to a 1-1 draw at Al Bayt Stadium.

Spain substitute Alvaro Morata opened the scoring in the second half of the clash between Group E heavyweights in Doha on Sunday.

Yet Fullkrug ensured Germany avoided back-to-back defeats after they were stunned by Japan in their opening match, equalising with seven minutes of regulation time to play.

The draw leaves Spain top, ahead of their final group game against Japan, with Germany needing to beat Costa Rica and hope La Roja do them a favour to have any chance of qualifying.

Gavi marked becoming Spain's youngest player at a major tournament with a goal in an emphatic 7-0 win over Costa Rica as La Roja began their Qatar 2022 campaign in record style.

Group E rivals Germany suffered a shock 2-1 loss to Japan earlier on Wednesday, but Spain did not look under any threat after Dani Olmo gave them an 11th-minute lead.

That was La Roja's 100th World Cup goal and another two followed inside the opening 31 minutes through Marco Asensio's strike and a Ferran Torres penalty.

Torres doubled his tally early in the second half and Gavi then steered in a delightful volley, before substitutes Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata added two more late on in Spain's record win at the tournament.

 

Spain were well on top when Olmo controlled a deflected Gavi pass and lifted the ball over Keylor Navas for La Roja's earliest World Cup goal since 2002.

Costa Rica struggled to get a foot on the ball and were two goals down with less than a quarter of the game played as Asensio swept home Jordi Alba's left-sided cross.

Alba was also involved in the third goal, the full-back being felled by a clumsy Oscar Duarte challenge in the box for Torres to put Spain out of reach with his casual spot-kick.

Torres slotted under Navas after some poor defending from Costa Rica and Gavi then got himself on the scoresheet with an outside-of-the-boot volley off the post.

Soler guided goal number six out of Navas' reach and fellow substitute Morata exchanged passes with Olmo before firing in to round off a superb Spain display.
 

What does it mean? Scintillating showing from Spain

Following shock defeats for Argentina and group rivals Germany in the opening round of games, Spain used this opener to put on a display and send out a message.

They scored seven goals in a World Cup match for the first time, with this the 2010 winners' biggest ever win in the competition.

Costa Rica were poor and become only the second side since records began in 1966 to fail to register a shot – the other instance being... Costa Rica against Brazil in 1990.

Torres torments Costa Rica

Torres scored at least twice as many goals in qualifying (four) than any other Spain player and he brought that form into the tournament with his double.

The Barcelona forward is the third player to score twice on his World Cup debut for Spain after David Villa (v Ukraine in 2006) and Jose Iraragorri (v Brazil in 1934).

Gavi behind only Pele

Both sides named their youngest ever players in a World Cup match – Gavi (18 years, 110 days) for Spain and Jewison Bennette (18y, 161d) for Costa Rica.

While winger Bennette managed just two passes in his hour on the pitch, Gavi became the youngest scorer in a World Cup match since Pele (17y 249d) in the 1958 final.

What's next?

Spain face fellow heavyweights Germany, who enter that game needing a result, while Costa Rica take on Japan in Sunday's other Group E match.

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