VALENCIA, Spain (AFP) – A goal on his competitive international debut by Paco Alcacer helped Spain bounce back after a disastrous defence of their World Cup crown in Brazil as the European champions opened their qualifying campaign for the 2016 finals with a 5-1 win over Macedonia on Monday.
A Sergio Ramos penalty added to Alcacer’s goal put the hosts 2-0 up early on in Valencia, but Agim Ibraimi brought Macedonia back into the game from the penalty spot.
However, there was no doubt over the outcome after Sergio Busquets added a third just on the verge of half-time before David Silva and Pedro Rodriguez rounded off the scoring in the second period.
“We have started the competition with three points and the performance was very good. That is the most important thing,” said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.
“We have taken a step forward. We are starting a new era and hopefully there is much more to come.”
Despite widespread calls for radical change after La Roja’s early elimination in Brazil, Del Bosque named 10 of his World Cup squad in the starting line-up with Alcacer the only new face.
However, his decision to stand by captain Iker Casillas was rewarded after just five minutes when the Real Madrid ‘keeper turned Ibraimi’s brilliantly struck free-kick behind for a corner.
Spain then looked to have put the game to bed with two goals inside 60 seconds as Ramos coolly chipped the ball from the penalty spot after Silva had been felled inside the area.
Alcacer then made the perfect start to his international career in his home city as he tapped home into an empty net from Juanfran’s neat cut-back.
However, Atletico Madrid right-back Juanfran undid his good work going forward 10 minutes later when he unnecessarily dived in and clipped Aleksandar Trajkovski inside the area, allowing Ibraimi to halve the deficit from the penalty spot.
The visitors were unable to build on the goal, though, as Spain dominated the rest of the match and could have won by a much more convincing scoreline but for some wayward finishing and fine goalkeeping by Macedonian captain Tomislav Pacovski.
Pedro Rodriguez was the first to be denied by a fine low save from Pacovski after running from inside his own half before letting fly inside the box.
Silva then fired straight at Pacovski when it seemed easier to score and Alcacer had a goalbound effort somehow deflected over by a stray Macedonian leg, but the hosts finally re-established their two-goal advantage when Busquets fired home his first international goal on his 70th appearance with the last kick of the first-half.
Spain struck again at the start of the second-half to register four goals for the first time since they thrashed Tahiti 10-0 at the Confederations Cup last June when Silva’s low drive flew into the far corner from Jordi Alba’s cutback.
With the game over as a contest Del Bosque took the opportunity to hand 19-year-old Munir El Haddadi a debut just three weeks after he made his bow with the Barcelona senior team to ensure he won’t be able to change his allegiance to his fatherland Morocco at a later date.
And Pedro rounded off a fine evening for the three-time European champions when he dinked the ball in off the bar in stoppage time from Silva’s through ball.