Silva leads stylish Spain's upturn in Israel win

Kieran CANNING
Spain midfielder David Silva (R) is challenged by Israel midfielder Almog Cohen during the World Cup 2018 group G qualifier at El Molinon stadium in Gijon on March 24, 2017

Spain remained well on course to book their place at the World Cup in Russia as David Silva conducted another clinical win over Israel, cementing the 2010 world champions' upturn in fortunes under Julien Lopetegui.

After the routine 4-1 win in Gijon on Friday the former goalkeeper is unbeaten in his seven games as national boss since replacing veteran Vicente del Bosque.

Lopetegui's main task appeared to be replacing the old guard of three consecutive major tournament triumphs between 2008 and 2012 with a new generation he had considerable success with as under-19 and under-21 coach.

Yet, it is one of the few remaining members of the team that sparked Spain's golden era by winning Euro 2008 that Lopetegui's team has been built around.

Silva smashed home his fifth goal of Lopetegui's reign to open the scoring against Israel and move level with Fernando Hierro as Spain's fourth highest goalscorer of all-time on 29 international goals.

"The star was David," ran the headline of sports daily Marca on Saturday.

The style of the opener and performance also provoked flashbacks to a Spain side that went on to dominate the international scene with their short passing "tiqui-taca" style underpinned by short but highly technically skilled players nearly a decade ago.

"Silva opened the scoring and bossed the tiqui-taca," read the front page of Marca's rival sports paper AS.

Del Bosque won Spain's only World Cup and Euro 2012 as boss, but La Roja looked like a reflection of their manager as they bowed out tired, worn down and apparently past their best at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.

Scoring goals against deep lying defences was the biggest problem in Del Bosque's latter years.

Yet, Lopetegui seems to have found a balance between the ageing creative talents of Silva and Andres Iniesta and the power and pace offered by Diego Costa and Vitolo.

"The confidence shown in me by Lopetegui is very important," said Costa, whose towering header registered Spain's third goal on Friday to take his tally to four in his last four internationals.

Prior to that run, the Brazilian-born Chelsea striker had scored just once in 11 caps since switching his allegiances to Spain in 2014.

"With every game I feel more at home," he said.

Vitolo won just three caps under Del Bosque, but has been an ever-present with Lopetegui and, like Costa, has four goals in five qualifiers.

Indeed only Belgium have scored more than Spain's 19 goals in European qualifying so far and they also scored twice in glamour friendlies away to Belgium (0-2) and England (2-2).

That goal glut could be vital with Spain leading Italy at the top of Group G by a goal difference advantage of eight.

Only one side from each group qualifies automatically with second place facing a two-legged playoff to reach Russia.