Spain 5 Northern Ireland 1 – Pedri’s perfect timing and a boost for Morata in easy win


Pedri’s first international goals helped Spain come from behind to soundly beat Northern Ireland in their final warm-up fixture before the European Championship.

Alvaro Morata, Fabian Ruiz and Mikel Oyarzabal were also on the scoresheet for Luis de la Fuente’s side, who fell behind to Sunderland defender Dan Ballard’s 2nd-minute header but quickly rallied and enjoyed near-total domination of Saturday’s friendly in Mallorca.

Spain — tournament winners in 2008 and 2012 — get their Euro 2024 campaign started against Croatia next Saturday, with Italy and Albania completing their group.

Here, The Athletic’s Dermot Corrigan picks out the talking points from a comprehensive and morale-boosting win for La Roja.

How to follow Euro 2024 on The Athletic…

Who impressed the most?

Pedri was taking a lot of the plaudits after Saturday’s game, and the Barcelona midfielder’s double was excellently timed.

The 21-year-old was a major talking point coming into these friendlies, given that long-running struggles with injury meant he had not played at all for Spain since World Cup 2022.

He was influential in Wednesday’s 5-0 friendly win over Andorra, without really shining — but he made a proper impact against Northern Ireland.

Spain were still wobbling after going 0-1 down so early when Pedri picked up the ball in space in midfield. He immediately turned, carried forward and, when no defender came out to cover him, lashed a low shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

Morata celebrates scoring against Northern Ireland (Rafa Babot/Getty Images)

That was the Canary Islander’s first international goal and the second came soon after captain Morata had put Spain 2-1 up with a neatly guided header from right-back Jesus Navas’ curled cross.

With the visitors defence now scrambling, Nico Williams burst down the left wing, and the Athletic Bilbao attacker pulled the ball back perfectly for the fast-arriving Pedri, who now had confidence to just slide a finish to the net.

Pedri even had a go for his hat-trick on his left foot from range coming up to half-time, before being withdrawn early in the second half with his job done.

And who looked off the pace?

Spain’s worst moments of their Euros warm-up games came in the opening stages tonight. In a very sluggish start, Sunderland defender Daniel Ballard was afforded space to head in a free kick with just over a minute on the clock. As the ex-Arsenal youth teamer rose unmarked, there was no sign of either Spain centre-back Robin Le Normand or Nacho.

Le Normand was soon afterwards booked for arriving late as Liverpool’s Conor Bradley burst into space behind the Spain defence. Pedri’s equaliser steadied things down and Spain were never really in danger of losing the game, but 20-year-old Standard Liege left winger Isaac Price caused problems by regularly getting behind veteran Navas during the first half, and skied an excellent chance to score just before half-time.

Can we expect changes before the Euros?

Real Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal and Al Nassr centre-back Aymeric Laporte, both second-half subs against Northern Ireland, will almost certainly start next Saturday’s Group B game against Croatia in Berlin.

Laporte’s leadership in the middle of the back four is hugely valued by De la Fuente, and the former Manchester City man replaced Nacho early in the second half.

Who starts at left-back is the biggest call. Seven different players have had call-ups from De la Fuente since Jordi Alba retired from international football on leaving Barcelona for Inter Miami last summer. Chelsea’s Marc Cucurella and Bayer Leverkusen’s Alejandro Grimaldo played 45 minutes each in both this week’s friendlies, without either making the position their own.

Fabian got Spain’s fourth goal against Northern Ireland (Rafa Babot/Getty Images)

Fabian’s goal for 4-1 on Saturday evening, arriving late to convert a Lamine Yamal cross, means the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder is now maybe ahead of Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino for a starting spot in midfield. Mikel Oyarzabal scoring soon after replacing Morata in the second half (the Real Sociedad captain’s fourth goal across Spain’s two recent friendlies) has him ahead of Real Madrid’s Joselu as back-up number nine.

An unknown is the condition of Dani Olmo, with the RB Leipzig playmaker not having featured in either friendly this week due to a thigh niggle. That makes it more likely that De la Fuente will choose a very attacking XI against Croatia, with pacy youngsters Williams and Yamal on either wing.

So Spain are looking good then?

Spain have now scored 10 goals across their two warm-up friendlies ahead of Euro 2024, with the games helping answer some of the questions facing coach De la Fuente ahead of the tournament.

De la Fuente was appointed after Spain’s exit from the 2022 World Cup (Rafa Babot/Getty Images)

The 62-year-old will have been especially happy with both Pedri and Morata scoring, and with Real Betis’ Ayoze Perez and Barcelona’s Fermin Lopez earning their places in the final squad with excellent international debuts earlier this week.

Neither Andorra on Wednesday in Badajoz nor Northern Ireland in Palma de Mallorca on Saturday evening are anywhere near the level of Croatia, Italy or even Albania, but De La Fuente will surely be happy with the boost of confidence for players and supporters before La Roja fly from Mallorca to their German base near Donaueschingen on Sunday afternoon.

What next for Spain?

Saturday, June 15: Croatia, Euro 2024 Group B, 5pm UK, 12pm ET

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(Top photo: Jaime Rena/AFP via Getty Images))

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