Spain controlled their opening game at the 2022 World Cup against Costa Rica from start to finish in a performance lifted straight from Luis Enrique’s dreams.
They attempted 1043 passes, scored seven times and didn’t give up a single shot while holding a World Cup record 81.8% possession during the game.
For a team often criticised for lacking thrust, they showed plenty in Enrique’s second major tournament as the manager. The 7-0 win is their biggest ever at the World Cup, trumping the 6-1 victory over Bulgaria in 1998.
It is Spain’s first win in their opening match at a World Cup since 2006. It’s just their third win in the opening match in their last 14 World Cup appearances.
Enrique announced he would become a live streamer during the Qatar World Cup in an effort to have a ‘more direct’ relationship with the fans. “No filters, more natural,” he said. The subtext to this announcement was that the Spanish manager likes to be in control. He likes to control the message and he likes when his football teams control games.
They did exactly that in their first outing in a World Cup since they attempted 1115 passes against Russia in the knockout stage in 2018. That was the record for most passes by any team at the World Cup in recorded history. They lost that game on penalties but there was no fear of them losing this one against a dire Costa Rica side.
Three Spain players completed 100 passes or more — Aymeric Laporte, Rodri and Jordi Alba. Costa Rica completed just 165 as a team. In fact, their 1043 attempted passes is the second most in recorded history at the World Cup.
Most of the possession-based features of Spain’s style remain intact since Enrique took over in 2019 but he has tried to inject more ‘verticality’ into their play. He opted for no striker against Costa Rica with Marco Asensio playing a false nine role. Ferran Torres and Dani Olmo flanked the Real Madrid striker.
All three of them scored in the first half.
They accumulated 2.37 expected goals during the opening 45 with seven shots (three on target) and led 3-0. That’s the highest xG in the first half by any team so far in this World Cup. They also attempted the most passes in a first half by any team in recorded World Cup history. La Roja would end the game with 3.35 expected goals to Costa Rica’s 0.
Costa Rica offered little throughout, and barely troubled Spain in any facet of the game. In fact, they became the second team not to record a single shot in a World Cup game. Oh, we should really say became the ‘first team again’, as the other time it happened was Costa Rica in 1990 versus Brazil.
Ferran Torres doubled his account in his first World Cup game after 54 minutes and it was an energy-saving mission from that point. Gavi and substitutes Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata enhanced the scoreline as Spain ran out comfortable winners while resting some of their older players. Gavi’s goal was a particular highlight, as he become the third-youngest scorer in World Cup history.
They are among the favourites again in Qatar with a 10.2% chance of adding a second gold star to the La Roja shirt. This victory won’t do much to quell expectations. Expect more of the same from Spain as they advance in this World Cup but tougher tests lie ahead. They play Germany on Sunday before finishing off their group stage against Japan next Thursday. The good news for Costa Rica? It can’t really get much worse than this.