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Paco Alcacer at the double as Wales forget their lines against Spain

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/10/2018 Stuart James at the Principality Stadium
Paco Alcacer scored twice as Wales endured a difficult evening against Spain. © Getty Images Paco Alcacer scored twice as Wales endured a difficult evening against Spain.

This was the first time that Wales have played at the Principality Stadium since 2011 and it turned into an ordeal for Ryan Giggs and his players. Outplayed and outclassed by Spain, the home side were comprehensively beaten on a night when the only saving grace was that the scoreline was not more emphatic.

Spain were in so much control that it seemed like an exhibition match for Luis Enrique’s team. They raced into a three-goal lead as Paco Alcácer maintained his remarkable start to the season – the Borussia Dortmund striker has scored nine goals in five appearances for club and country, despite starting three of those matches from the bench – and Sergio Ramos silenced the boos that greeted his every touch with a typical header.

Ramos’s goal, on his 159th appearance for his country, could not have been any easier as the Spain captain exposed some shambolic Wales defending from a free kick. Another goal from a set-piece, headed in by the substitute Marc Bartra in the second half, completed the scoring for Spain on an evening when Gareth Bale, who was ruled out with a groin injury, looked on from the stands.

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At least Wales could take some comfort from the way that they finished the game, with a late spell of pressure yielding reward when Sam Vokes, towering above Bartra, sent a fine twisting header inside the far post from a superb David Brooks cross. A more worrying sight for them was the knee injury that forced Ethan Ampadu off in the second half, raising doubts about his availability for Tuesday’s Nations League tie in the Republic of Ireland.

From Wales’s point of view the game had turned into an exercise in damage limitation with less than half an hour gone. Remarkably, they were already 3-0 down at that stage and, worryingly for Giggs, they had contributed to their own downfall by giving away some terribly soft goals to a Spain side who hardly needed a helping hand.

There were only eight minutes on the clock when they opened the scoring. Suso, who was lively on the right, delivered an inswinging cross that Wayne Hennessey only half-cleared. José Gayà, the Spain left-back, mis-hit his shot and Saúl Ñíguez, reacting quickly, neatly laid the ball off for Alcácer, who whipped a rising right-footed shot inside the goalkeeper’s near post. It was a terrific finish.

Video: Wales players reflect on long 90 minutes (Sky Sports)


What followed little more than 10 minutes later was inexcusable on Wales’s part. Suso swung in a free-kick from the left that picked out Ramos, who was totally unmarked. Ashley Williams, the Wales captain, was the closest player to him but nowhere near close enough and Ramos, always a dangerous presence in the opposition area, accepted the gift by effortlessly nodding past Hennessey.

Worse was to come for Wales. In a moment that summed up their muddled and disjointed performance, Harry Wilson and Joe Allen challenged for the same ball inside their own penalty area. Wilson got there first and ended up inadvertently stabbing the ball into the path of Alcácer, who beat Hennessey with a low volley from about 12 yards. It was schoolboy stuff. There were only 28 minutes on the clock at that point and everyone, from the Wales players to the home supporters, looked in a state of shock.

Giggs responded by scrapping the three-man central defence that never looked comfortable and moving to a 4-4-1-1 formation that saw Aaron Ramsey play behind Vokes and Wilson move into a role wide on the right. Those changes at least helped to steady things until the interval and enabled Wales to gain a bit of a foothold. Finally, with 35 minutes gone, there was something for their fans to get excited about as Ampadu’s header, from Wilson’s corner, glanced off the outside of a post.

Normal service quickly resumed at the start of the second half, however, as Spain dominated possession and started to move the ball around in that way which leaves opponents looking dazed and confused.

Rodri, a 22-year-old Atlético Madrid player, was imperious in the centre of the midfield, while Suso looked menacing whenever he picked up the ball and cut inside. A curling left-foot shot from the Milan winger clipped the top of the crossbar just before the hour-mark with Hennessey beaten.

Bartra, nodding in Suso’s corner, added what felt like an inevitable fourth goal before Vokes’s header at the other end reduced the deficit.


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