Isco bags brace as Spain ease past Italy
Isco scored twice as Spain beat Italy 3-0 at the Bernabeu to move clear at the top of World Cup qualifying Group G.
The Real Madrid midfielder clipped in a free-kick after 13 minutes before doubling Spain's lead with a low strike five minutes before half-time.
Although Italy, who had not lost a qualifying tie for a major championships since September 2006, improved for the second half, they lacked a cutting edge in attack.
Chelsea forward Alvaro Morata came off the bench to put the result beyond doubt when he tapped in a cross from captain Sergio Ramos with 13 minutes left.
Spain deployed Manchester City midfielder David Silva in the false nine role, but had the likes of £60million front man Morata and recalled veteran David Villa, now playing in Major Soccer League in reserve on the bench.
Despite the lack of a regular centre forward, Spain did not have to wait long for their first goal.
Leonardo Bonucci was somewhat fortunate to only be shown a yellow card for fouling Marco Asensio as the Madrid man looked to race into the area.
From the resulting free-kick, some 22 yards out, Isco curled the ball over the wall and into the top left corner, past the reach of Gianluigi Buffon, who was making his 170th international appearance.
Italy almost got back on level terms straight away when Andrea Belotti's header brought a fine save from Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.
Spain, though, continued to look dangerous as their front line rotated.
Gerard Pique headed over a cross from Koke before Dani Carvajal's effort was deflected behind.
A second goal eventually arrived five minutes before the break.
The ball was worked down the left and then back into the middle by Andres Iniesta, who picked out Isco.
The midfielder cut inside a couple of Azzurri shirts to the edge of the box before dispatching a low, left-footed shot into the bottom right corner as Buffon was beaten again.
Italy regrouped for the second half and provided a much sterner rearguard for Spain to break down as well as offering more in the final third themselves.
Lorenzo Insigne tested De Gea before Belotti headed over from a corner.
Spain, though, remained a threat on the break and Isco sent Dani Carvajal clear, but Buffon was able to get a hand to his attempted chip.
With 20 minutes left, Iniesta was replaced by Morata and the substitute made an instant impact to end any hopes of an Italian recovery.
Morata laid the ball off to Ramos on the right, and the captain ran down the line before clipping a pass back across the face of goal for the Spain number nine to knock in at the far post.
A long-range effort from Atalanta defender Leonardo Spinazzola forced De Gea into an acrobatic stop before Morata nodded in from 10 yards, but the offside flag was already up.
With three matches left, Spain are now three points clear of Italy, who look set to have to come through the play-offs to qualify for Russia.
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.