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Ferran Torres Leads Spain to Perfect Group Record, Knocks Out Albania

Spain manager Luis de la Fuente rang the changes for this match as his side had already progressed to the knockout phase as Group B winners, with only Aymeric Laporte remaining in the starting XI from the 1-0 win over Italy that secured qualification for the last 16.

 Given their precarious situation in the group, Albania started with lots of purpose here, as they did when scoring in the first 15 minutes against both Italy and Croatia at this tournament. 

However, their opponents registered the first effort of target in the game as Mikel Merino’s downward header was shovelled away by Thomas Strakosha, and after Joselu saw a header of his own go narrowly wide, La Roja got their noses in front on 13 minutes. Laporte’s incisive pass through the middle of the pitch found Dani Olmo, who timed his through-ball for Torres to perfection, allowing the Barcelona attacker to superbly slot in off Strakosha’s right-hand post.

From that point on, Spain were largely in control, with David Raya only really stretched before the break when he had to spring to his left to keep out Kristjan Asllani’s strike. Just after HT, it could have been easily 2-0 when Álex Grimaldo’s venomous cross was met spectacularly by Joselu, but the ball flew mercifully wide from Strakosha’s perspective. Just shy of the hour mark, Albania boss Sylvinho finally made his first substitution of the night as Armando Broja replaced Rey Manaj, and the Chelsea man should soon have equalised, with Raya stretching to paw away his close-range shot. The fanatical Albania fans, encouraged by that opportunity, upped the noise levels at Merkur Spiel-Arena, but their team failed to sufficiently build on that moment as Arbër Hoxha blazed over late on when in an inviting position before a late Broja effort was held by the flying Raya.

That victory means that Spain’s H2H record is now nine wins from nine as they wait to discover the identity of their last-16 opponents. By contrast, Albania head home, but they can be proud of their efforts after some spirited performances in a tough group during what was only their second-ever major tournament.

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Written by Charles Daisi

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