DOHA, Qatar -- With the global heavyweights on notice after Saudi Arabia and Japan pulled off stunning upsets over Argentina and Germany, Spain wasted no time putting Costa Rica to bed early in a 7-0 win. It was a historically dominant World Cup victory and one that sets Spain up as one of the favorite for the rest of the tournament.
1. What scoring problems?
Coming into the World Cup, there were valid questions about Spain's attack. Combining World Cup qualifying and the UEFA Nations League, Spain ranked No. 17 in the region in goals (23 in 14 games) and had failed to score more than two goals in its last 11 competitive matches. Going against a Costa Rica side that usually employs a five-man backline in front of former Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, a low-scoring game seemed possible, if not likely.
That line of thinking disappeared quickly. Costa Rica started by defending in a 4-4-2 block, which the Spanish attack sliced through with ease, almost immediately. Dani Olmo's opening goal in the 11th minute came on a well-worked sequence that saw him combine with Gavi, as the Barcelona midfielder's deflected chip put him in front of goal where he calmly turned and finished.
When Marco Ascensio scored off a Jordi Alba assist ten minutes later, the result was already solidified and Ferran Torres' penalty gave Spain more goals through 31 minutes than 18 teams in the tournament had scored in full time to that point. The attacking show never slowed down.
2. A historically dominant effort
Spain's seven goals are the most it has ever scored in a World Cup match, breaking the previous record that came in a 6-1 win against Bulgaria in 1998. In the process, Spain nearly equaled its total from the entire 2010 World Cup when it scored eight while winning the entire tournament.
It was the most lopsided win in the World Cup since Portugal beat North Korea 7-0 in 2010 and the first time any team has scored seven in a match since Germany put seven past Brazil in the 2014 semifinal. (The record margin of victory at the World Cup is nine, which as happened three times with the last coming in 1982).
Spain is the first team to hold an opponent shotless in the World Cup since 1990, when Brazil also did it to Costa Rica. And Spain's 81.3% possession was the most dominant ratio since at least 1966. All told, it was one of the most dominant performances ever in the World Cup.
3. Thanks for coming, Costa Rica
It was always going to take an improbable performance for Costa Rica to escape a group featuring two recent World Cup champions (Spain and Germany) and Japan. After this result, the idea of that ever being possible seems absurd. The goal now should be to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2006, when the team lost all three matches and finished 31st in the tournament.
For coach Luis Fernando Sanchez, the decision to play with a four-man backline was bizarre. Especially knowing that Spain was going to play with a heavy majority of the possession and has, at times, struggled against bunkered defenses. It wouldn't have made a difference in the final result had Los Ticos started with five in the back, but Fernandez essentially admitted he made a tactical mistake when he moved to a 5-4-1 after falling behind early.
Costa Rica's previous worst margin of defeat at a World Cup was three goals: 1990 against Czechoslovakia (4-1), 2002 against Brazil (5-2) and 2006 against Ecuador (3-0).
Subs: Soler 6, Morata 7, Balde 6, Koke 6, Williams 6
Costa Rica: K. Navas 3, K. Fuller 4, C. Borges 4, O. Duarte 4, A. Conteras 5, B. Oviedo 4, J. Bennette, J. Campbell, F. Calvo 4, C. Martinez 5, Y. Tejeda 5
Subs: Waston 6, Ruiz 6, Zamora 5, Aguilera 5, Matarita 6
Best and worst performers
Given how dominant Spain was, any number of players could be highlighted here, but let's take a moment to acknowledge the significance of Gavi's performance. He became the third-youngest player (18 years, 110 days) to ever score at World Cup and did so with a goal-of-the-tournament candidate.
It was a collective disaster, but Navas did bail out his teammates like he has done so many times in international competitions.
Highlights and notable moments
Spain start the 2022 World Cup with a win, something they failed to do in the last three tournaments going back to 2010, which they ended up winning.
We'll be seeing a lot of Barcelona youngsters Pedri and Gavi in the coming years.
19-year-old Pedri & 18-year-old Gavi get their first ever World Cup start together 🤩— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 23, 2022
It's a new era for Spain's midfield 🇪🇸 pic.twitter.com/vVbB4dlcno
Spain's midfield is putting on a masterclass against Costa Rica, who are being thoroughly outplayed.
This Spanish side and Luis Enrique's strategy reminds me of Unai Emery's quote from a few weeks ago and how shape is not important. Every #ESP player is just there to help the ball move. Let the ball do the work. That's the shape.— Luis Miguel Echegaray (@lmechegaray) November 23, 2022
After Gavi made it five for Spain with a wonder strike, there's no question about Enrique's side being a threat in front of goal.
GAVI'S FIRST FIFA WORLD CUP GOAL— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 23, 2022
He becomes the youngest player to ever score for Spain at a FIFA World Cup 🔥🇪🇸 pic.twitter.com/ErWFoxArdn
After the match: What the players and managers said
Spains's Ferran Torres: "We're happy. We knew it would be a difficult game. It's true that at half-time we already had a big lead but in a competition like this the goals can be useful, so we went for more... It's what we try to do in every game, play from the first minute until the 90th minute in the way we want to play, and take the game where we want to, and today we achieved that... Now we'll think about Germany, watch videos of how they play, and we're excited to play. I don't know if we're candidates (to win the World Cup) but we have an extraordinary group, we'll make things difficult, and we want to do big things."
Spain's head coach Luis Enrique: "It was a very special game for us. We tried to focus on starting well. We wanted to start the competition the best way possible and it went really well for us. We haven't been good in the first game of past World Cup. We played a very competitive team in Costa Rica, but today we were superior in every aspect of the game."
Costa Rica's head coach Luis Suarez: "I'm feeling very sad there is no doubt about that. Also, I had very different expectations for this game and my feelings were completely different ahead of this match. I'm not feeling ok, to be honest." "Psychologically, I'm really worried that my team doesn't manage to cope with this terrible result and the way we played. That is first solution that I need to provide to my team and we have to leave this behind us and start working as of tomorrow morning to show our players that we have to remember about Japan and to try and win that match."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Spain score their 100th World Cup goal - 6th nation to achieve the feat.
- Gavi: At 18 years and 110 days, he will become the youngest player to play for Spain in a major international tournament (EURO + WC).
- Gavi is the first teenager to ever score for Spain in a World Cup.
- Spain: 81.3% possession -- highest in a FIFA World Cup match since 1966.
- 7 is the most goals Spain have scored in a World Cup match.
Spain: Spain be riding high headed into its game against shell-shocked Germany. The last time the two powers met, Spain beat Germany 6-0 in the UEFA Nations League (Nov. 17, 2020).
Costa Rica: After its worst World Cup performance ever, Costa Rica has to play a Japan team coming off arguably its best win in history. That might not bode well for Los Ticos but they shouldn't be as overwhelmed as they were against Spain.