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Morata defies critics to spark Spain's Euro 2024 bid

James Gill - Danehouse / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Three months after a section of Spain fans whistled Alvaro Morata, the striker got the ball rolling on their Euro 2024 bid by scoring the opener to inspire an impressive 3-0 win over Croatia on Saturday.

Spain's lack of an elite number nine is often cited as one of the country's weak points but the Atletico Madrid forward set up three-time champions La Roja for a perfect start in Berlin. 

The former Juventus, Real Madrid and Chelsea forward has bounced around some of Europe's biggest sides without fully convincing or becoming the consistently lethal weapon many hoped he could be.

Morata limped off after 67 minutes but insisted after the game it was just a knock and he would be fit for Spain's second match in what was dubbed the 'group of death'.

"I am ready for Italy," he said, with Spain facing the Euro 2020 champions on Thursday in Gelsenkirchen.

After Spain had dominated early possession it was just when Croatia began to play their way into the match that Morata pounced.

The forward, occasionally derided for spurning presentable opportunities, broke in down the middle after the excellent Fabian Ruiz threaded a pass through for him from deep in midfield.

Morata stayed calm as he stared down Dominik Livakovic and, with his weaker left foot, clinically slid the ball past the Croatian goalkeeper.

"Fabian gave it to me, I said the other day that he's brilliant, he had a great game and then he scored a great goal himself," said Morata, passing on the credit.

The Atletico striker's goal blew the game open after Croatia had kept it tightly closed, and Ruiz added the second just three minutes later, with Dani Carvajal grabbing another before the break.

Morata's strike made him the standalone fourth top Spanish international goalscorer of all-time with 36 goals, trailing only leader David Villa on 59, as well as Raul and Fernando Torres with 44 and 38 respectively.

The striker also pulled level as the joint-third top Euros goalscorer, with Alan Shearer and Antoine Griezmann on seven -- Cristiano Ronaldo has 14 and Michel Platini nine.

With such strong tallies, it was surprising to some that Morata was whistled during a 3-3 friendly draw with Brazil in March at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Of course some Real Madrid fans took the chance to insult a rival at club level, but if Morata was an indisputable key player for Spain they might not have been so dismissive.

"It hurts my soul that in my country they whistle a player from the national team... when I hear them whistle, I feel shame," said Spain coach Luis de la Fuente in March, but he was far happier in Berlin.

'You feel it'

Ahead of the clash with Croatia the coach mentioned the team's job was to inspire national pride, saying there was a lack of it in the country.

Morata's strike got Spain off on a strong footing on that front, even though around 10,000 fans were vastly outnumbered by their Croatian counterparts, filling the majority of the Olympiastadion.

"The first thing is to thank the fans that came to support us," said Morata.

"You feel it when Spaniards want to back us and they come, it was important to start like that."

Even if Morata is not on the same world-class plane as France forward Kylian Mbappe or England striker Harry Kane, he showed against stern opposition he has what it takes to make the difference this summer.

Morata started the club season strongly with Atletico Madrid but found the net just twice in his final 13 La Liga appearances, concerning form ahead of the Euros.

However in a 5-1 friendly rout of Northern Ireland last week Morata scored and looked significantly sharper, doing enough to stay ahead of Joselu, Mikel Oyarzabal and Ayoze Perez as De la Fuente's other central options.

It paid off for the forward and his coach against Croatia and despite that blow to his calf, Morata is raring to go against Italy. 

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