Isco underlined the embarrassment of riches in Spain’s midfield with an irresistible performance in his side’s 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Italy on Saturday which even had opposing coach Gian Piero Ventura eating out of his hand.
Real Madrid’s Isco was making only his sixth competitive start at international level and has never begun a game for his country in a major tournament, but he set his home stadium alight with a formidable display as Spain grabbed Group G by the scruff of the neck.
The former Malaga man put Spain in charge with two ferocious strikes in the first half, one from a free kick, the other a dribble followed by a low shot which whistled past Gianluigi Buffon.
He left his opponents further dazzled in the second half with an audacious waltz to draw Antonio Candreva and coolly knock the ball through the legs of an unsuspecting Marco Veratti.
“It was incredible to see a player as good as Isco up in the flesh, he’s a great player and he did very important things tonight,” said losing coach Ventura.
“Just look at the nutmeg in the second half, he’s in the middle of two players and he does that, it shows he is a truly great player. I congratulate him and I wanted to jump up and applaud him because I love to see technique like that.”
Isco took European football by storm by leading Malaga’s charge to the 2013 Champions League quarter-finals before moving to Real, although he struggled to truly realise his enormous potential until last season.
He played only eight minutes in Spain’s shambolic 2014 World Cup campaign and did not make the starting line-up in their run to the last 16 at Euro 2016.
But the 25-year-old’s recent performances for Real Madrid, helping them to win La Liga and the Champions League last season, made him a certain starter in the qualifier against Italy.
“He had a magnificent game, just like the rest of his team mates,” Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said.
“He unblocked the game, scored two fantastic goals and was very good at pressing. He’s getting more games and as a result he’s growing, maturing and polishing his talent. He’s a great footballer.”
Spain’s all-time top scorer David Villa briefly took the adoring crowd’s attention from Isco when he made his first appearance for his country after a three-year absence.
“I’m delighted for him (Isco), he’s a great guy who I’ve known since I was at Valencia when he was in the academy and he’d train with the big players,” Villa said. “He’s tearing it up at the moment. We can all enjoy him and thank God that he’s Spanish.”