Spain: Is former Liverpool striker Iago Aspas the key to World Cup victory?
The Celta Vigo striker is most well-known in England for a forgettable 12 months at Liverpool and mis-hitting a corner kick, but he has found redemption back home.
There was an element of surprise in the United Kingdom when Spain’s official 23-man World Cup panel was confirmed.
Up front there was no room for Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, who had joined from Real Madrid for £65m the previous summer, but had a relatively poor season, not reflective of the money the Blues spent on him.
Only three strikers -Iago Aspas, Diego Costa and Rodrigo- were selected by boss Julen Lopetegui, who plays with just one striker upfront in a formation where the midfield is flooded with creativity and the recycling of possession is key.
Best striker in Spain
Iago Aspas has enjoyed another wonderful season with Celta – hitting 23 goals across 37 appearances in a season where the club struggled to trouble the top half of La Liga.
The Galician native was primarily used on the right-hand side of an attacking top three, with Uruguayan target man Maxi Gomez the attacking focal point with Pione Sisto – a Ugandan-born Denmark international – causing havoc on the left flank.
Aspas has often been a delight to watch, a technically-gifted player who can bamboozle defenders, bring others into play and ensure the retention of possession in vital areas.
Iago Aspas’ La Liga season by numbers:
- 23 goals
- 64 chances created
- 60 key passes
- 55 take-ons
- 15 aerial duels won
- 4 assists
As his scoring stats suggest, he is also ice-cold inside the penalty are. Only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo outscored him in the Spanish top flight this season.
Winning his first cap aged 28, for a long time the suggestion that Aspas would be a future Spain international, never mind in their World Cup squad, was almost laughable.
However, his notable rise to prominence following a 2015 return to Celta, the club where he had spent five years before an ill-fated switch to Liverpool, was rewarded by boss Lopetegui.
The Spanish coach has not lost in his 20 matches at the helm and exactly half of those have featured Aspas, who has returned an impressive five goals in that timeframe.
He netted on his international debut – a 2-2 draw at Wembley against England – before finding the net as a substitute in the 6-1 demolition of Argentina this year and scoring the winner against Tunisia on Sunday.
Diego Costa is likely to be the first-choice striker in Russia, but Aspas is running him close, and his ability to play as part of a three in behind a target man could also be deployed.
The third striker, Rodrigo Moreno, will play some part but it is the former Liverpool man alongside Costa who will carry the greatest expectation.
Can he prove decisive?
Since re-joining Celta from Sevilla three summers ago, Aspas has hit the back of the net 72 times in 136 appearances for club and country. A rate of more than a goal a game.
This tally is reflective of his importance within each side – England and Argentina are national teams with serious pedigree, while he also netted a hat-trick against Sevilla and scored against both Barcelona and Real Madrid this campaign.
He is an ideal fit for the national team and showed that he has the nerve and composure to make his quality count at the highest level.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group B in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.