Tasos Bakasetas makes wasteful Spain pay penalty with leveller for Greece
The team that cut through Germany crashed into Greece. Spain began a new World Cup qualifying campaign exhibiting some old, familiar flaws. Possession was not enough and nor was the Álvaro Morata goal that gave them a first-half lead, seeming to set them up for a comfortable win. Instead, a split second, a slip and a daft penalty, a single moment in a game played almost entirely in the other half of the pitch, allowed Greece to leave Granada with a draw, celebrating at the end.
Spain, meanwhile, were left lamenting a lost opportunity. Lost optimism too. Tasos Bakasetas’s thumping spot-kick was the only shot on target that John van’t Schip’s side had taken, yet it was enough. For Luis Enrique’s team, almost 80% of the ball was not, the euphoria from their last, dazzling display evaporating here. Nor in the end was the life injected into them late on by the debutant Bryan Gil. Something a little different too. They may need it.
Spain’s coach started nine of the 11 who had torn Germany to pieces in November, scoring six goals in Seville. He fielded a starting XI with as many Manchester City players as there were from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid put together, the intention to replicate the incision and the precision of that night. And yet when it was over he admitted that he had not liked the display: “We found it too hard to create danger,” he said. “We lacked inspiration.”
It had looked different to start with: only 90 seconds had been played when Dani Olmo almost opened the scoring, just unable to leap above the ball from a couple of metres out. Eleven minutes later, José Luis Gayà escaped up the left to provide an opportunity for Koke near the penalty spot, only for him to scuff the first shot and see his follow up rebound off the post.
And yet with Greece waiting deep, Spain struggled to move the ball with the fluidity or incision they needed. It felt like you were watching the same thing on a loop, the ball going from one side to the other and round again; up it went, then back, the cycle continuing but rarely going anywhere significant. In front, the lines of blue shirts were only very occasionally breached, not least because there appeared to be little urgency to do so until much later on.
That might have appeared justified when Olmo cut inside off the left and smashed a superb shot off the bar and when a minute later, another came and this time was decisive. Koke made it, chopping a lovely ball over the Greek defence, to where Morata was up and running. He controlled neatly on the chest and then, without letting the ball land, volleyed high into the net past Odysseas Vlachodimos.
Spain led and the cycle continued, but Greece were offered an unexpected way back when Iñigo Martínez, who replaced Sergio Ramos at half-time, played the ball clear inside the area. As he did so, he slid, followed through and implanted his studs in the leg of Giorgos Masouras. It was a costly accident, Bakasetas smashing in the penalty.
Spain had completed five hundred passes more already, but had no more goals. Solutions were sought in two debutants, Gil and Pedri both introduced, Thiago Alcântara and Mikel Oyarzabal following soon after.
Gil brought something fresh, a sense of threat from a winger from the old school determined to run at and round opponents. Not that there was any reward. A superb exchange between Morata and Gayà opened Greece up, but the ball across evaded Oyarzabal at the far post. When Gil led a charge not long after that, the final ball was a fraction too far ahead of Morata, who had also appealed for a penalty. And a final shot from Marcos Llorente was blocked. Spain could not break Greece, the roar that greeted the final whistle theirs.