Isco scored a brilliant double as Spain defeated Italy 3-0 to take a huge step towards World Cup qualification.
The Real Madrid star, playing at his home ground of the Santiago Bernabeu, scored both of his goals in the first half as he continued his magnificent individual year for club and country.
Isco opened the scoring with a superb free-kick and made it two with a low effort, moving on to four goals in his last five internationals as Spain impressed after opting not to start with a recognised number nine.
Italy were more threatening after the break but could not find a way past David de Gea, with Spain substitute Alvaro Morata sealing victory late on as the visitors’ hopes of reaching Russia suffered a blow.
The convincing win sees Spain, who play Liechtenstein on Tuesday, move three points clear of Italy at the top of Group G with only three matches to go.
As well as that advantage, the goal difference of Julen Lopetegui’s men is superior by 10, meaning only a dramatic turnaround will see them slip into a play-off spot. Italy are four points ahead of third-placed Albania.
— #WCQ (@FIFAWorldCup) September 2, 2017
Spain made the breakthrough in the 13th minute after Leonardo Bonucci was booked for a foul on Marco Asensio that ensured he is ruled out of the next qualifier against Israel.
Given Asensio was about to shoot and had a clear path to goal, the AC Milan defender may have been fortunate not to see red from referee Bjorn Kuipers, but Italy were still punished from the resulting free-kick, as Isco stepped up to send a dipping effort past Gianluigi Buffon from 25 yards.
The visitors almost equalised when a deep Matteo Darmian cross from the right was powerfully headed towards goal by Andrea Belotti, only for the Torino striker to be denied by a good reaction save from De Gea.
Spain wasted a headed chance of their own at the other end when Gerard Pique could only divert Koke’s delivery over from six yards.
But the hosts did double their lead five minutes before half-time, Isco collecting a pass from Andres Iniesta and gliding past Marco Verratti to fire left-footed into the bottom corner from just outside the area.
2 – Isco Alarcon is the first player to score two goals from outside the box in the same game for since at least 2004. Sensational. pic.twitter.com/PN8XT05B4r
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 2, 2017
Italy came out fighting in the second half and De Gea had to save from Verratti with Antonio Candreva making a hash of the rebound, shortly before a stretching Belotti headed over from two yards out after Andrea Barzagli helped a corner into his path.
Asensio sent a bouncing effort just wide from over 30 yards out in response, while Buffon raced out to save from Dani Carvajal after great work from Isco had created the opportunity.
With 18 minutes to go, Iniesta came off to a touching standing ovation despite being at the home of Barcelona’s arch-rivals, with Morata coming on.
And just five minutes after his arrival, Chelsea’s Morata put the result beyond doubt, exchanging a one-two with former Madrid team-mate Sergio Ramos, who charged forward from defence on the counterattack and laid it on a plate for the striker to convert high into the net from close range.
De Gea sprung across goal to save Lorenzo Insigne’s late strike, while Morata had a second goal ruled out for offside after he headed in David Silva’s cross.
Amid a party atmosphere at the Bernabeu, Isco came off in the final moments and received a deserved standing ovation, as David Villa – over three years after his last appearance – came on to make a popular return to the international scene at the age of 35.
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