In Focus: Three-goal Morata is Spain's surprise star
Spain scraped through the group stages after losing to Japan — but Alvaro Morata’s surprising showings should ensure La Roja’s World Cup dreams live on.
Luis Enrique’s men were doubted by many prior to the tournament, with critics believing their lack of a top-class striker could prove to be their undoing.
But Morata is proving his worth, having scored three and assisted one in just 126 minutes for his country.
Ahead of Spain's last 16 tie against Morocco, we analyse the Atletico Madrid forward's performances and assess La Roja’s chances of success with him leading the line.
Group goals galore
In Spain's 7-0 demolition of Costa Rica, Morata came on as a substitute and made an instant impact with a lofted cross to Gavi, who latched onto the ball and dispatched a stunning volley.
Shortly afterwards, a sharp one-two with Dani Olmo on the edge of the box created space for the striker to drill a left-footed effort into the bottom corner — rounding off a delightful World Cup debut.
Against Germany, he was once again introduced as a substitute and broke the deadlock with a darting run across Niklas Sule to clip the ball past Manuel Neuer.
The 30-year-old’s impressive performances earned him a start against Japan, where he headed in his third of the tournament.
However, the Blue Samurai came roaring back with two goals of their own and Morata was hauled off shortly after Spain went behind as Luis Enrique sought to rescue the match.
Leading La Roja
Morata has scored five times in 14 LaLiga appearances for Atleti — and only one in his last 10.
Despite his patchy form at club level, he is now Spain's fifth-highest scorer of all time with 30 goals in 60 caps — 13 of which have come under Luis Enrique.
He has also scored nine at major tournaments, demonstrating a capacity to perform on the big stage.
Clinical centre forward
As a natural No9, Morata’s movement — particularly his darting runs in behind — is a fairly unique quality amongst the attacking members of the Spain squad.
The striker is blessed with a technically gifted supporting cast that includes talents such as Pedri, Gavi and Olmo, who are able to fashion chances for him.
Morata has not wasted those opportunities so far, scoring both of his big chances and hitting the target with five of his six efforts.
Alvaro’s alright with the bench
Despite finding himself on the bench for the opening two games, Morata insists Spain’s collective success is his primary concern.
He said: "At club level, you've got more time to train, more space — and obviously, you want to play — but here, I can assure you that it doesn't bother me at all [to be a substitute].
"In fact, if I had to choose coming on from the bench in all the games, or even not playing, but the team wins the World Cup, I would sign up for it. I would cheer the team on from the bench.
"In the end, we have a goal, a dream, and all of us feel important. Everyone is important in different ways. All of us are important and everyone has his function."
Solid as Morocc
After a nail-biting end to the group stage, Spain face Morocco, who topped Group F by drawing with Croatia before beating Belgium and Canada.
The Atlas Lions have proven themselves a formidable defensive side, conceding just once this tournament — an own goal from Nayef Aguerd against Canada.
Whether Morata starts or comes off the bench, he will need to be at his best to break down this well-drilled defence.
If he can, he will be well on his way to proving a lot of doubters wrong — and could cement his name alongside some of Spain's finest finishers should they go all the way.