- The Celta Vigo striker has six goals from 12 appearances with La Roja
- Scored his first World Cup finals goal to salvage point against Morocco
- Made his world finals debut against Portugal at the age of 30
By Antia Andre with Spain
Few players make the most of their opportunities as well as Iago Aspas, who has now scored six goals and provided five assists in his 12 appearances with La Roja. What makes those statistics all the more impressive is that his international career to date amounts to fewer than 400 minutes on the pitch.
At Kaliningrad Stadium on Monday evening he showed once again that he has a special gift for scoring goals. The meeting with Morocco had become something of a nightmare for Spain, and with his side trailing 2-1 and time running out, coach Fernando Hierro turned to Aspas for a solution.
“We know he’s a special striker who can score goals, has a lot of talent, links up well, and who has a lot to offer us in the final third,” said Hierro afterwards. “He’s an intelligent kid, a good finisher and very crafty. He played with a lot of intensity when he came on, pressing the ball really well, and offering himself a lot. It was just what we needed at that time. There wasn’t a lot of space on offer and we just wanted him to use all the talent he’s got.”
Aspas did not let his coach down. The leading Spanish marksman in La Liga last season, with 20 goals for Celta Vigo, he caused the Moroccan rearguard problems as soon as he made his entrance.
When the match ticked into injury time, the striker found a gap in the well-manned opposition defence and flicked the ball home with the heel of his weaker right foot. “We were in a very tight spot and scoring that goal was important for us,” Spain’s saviour told FIFA.
Following a nerve-shredding wait as VAR checked that he was onside, Aspas was finally able to celebrate his goal. His first thought, however, was to hare off, collect the ball and get the game restarted so he could go in search of a winner, actions typical of a player who never settles for what he has, who always wants more.
“I feel so happy,” he added. “It’s a very special day.” Aside from helping his side seal their place in the Round of 16, Aspas also had the satisfaction of scoring in front of his family, who were in the stands to cheer him on.
Now 30, the front man from Galicia is in the form of his life and continues to showcase his ability to perform on the most demanding of stages. He did just that on his debut with La Roja at Wembley, an occasion he celebrated by firing a stunning late drive into the top corner.
Known affectionately in his native Galicia as 'el Príncipe de las bateas' ('The Prince of the Mussel Rafts’ - the region being famous for this particular seafood), Aspas will be visiting another imposing stadium this coming weekend: the Luzhniki in Moscow, where Spain will take on the tournament hosts. Aspas is on fire, as the adoring Celta fans sing, and he will be hungry for more in the Russian capital.
Did you know?
- Spain have now gone 23 matches without defeat, their last reverse having come at the hands of Italy in the Round of 16 at UEFA EURO 2016. It is the longest unbeaten run of any national team at the moment.