Andres Iniesta

AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti

Spain 5-0 Costa Rica: Silva, Morata star in thrashing of Ticos

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After disastrous showings at back-to-back major tournaments — group-stage elimination at the 2014 World Cup, followed by a round-of-16 exit at EURO 2016 (disastrous by their lofty standards) — Spain appear in perfect position to make a deep run at the 2018 World Cup.

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Having qualified directly into next summer’s tournament in Russia on the back of nine wins (and a draw) during their 10-game qualifying campaign, Saturday saw La Furia Roja take on another already-qualified side, rising CONCACAF power Costa Rica, and reiterate to everyone the gulf in class between Europe’s giants and hopefuls from elsewhere.

The final score — 5-0 to the home side — extended Spain’s current unbeaten run to 15 games (their last defeat came at EURO 2016), and was still perhaps flattering for Los Ticos, as it could have easily been 7-0, or 8-0, or worse.

[ MORE: WCQ — Ireland, Denmark all square ahead of decisive second leg ]

1. Jordi Alba smashes a left-footed shot past backup goalkeeper Dany Carvajal (Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas wasn’t called into this camp), the 7th international goal of his career.

2. Alvaro Morata pounces after Carvajal spills the ball inside his own six-yard box — his 13th goal for Spain.

3. David Silva slams home his first of two goals after one Costa Rican defender clears the ball off another.

4. Silva goes it alone this time — he wins the ball back, races into the penalty area and fires past Carvajal.

5. Andres Iniesta carries the ball, unimpeded, 40 yards through the heart of midfield. He fires from nearly 25 yards out and makes it 5-0.

The following is anything but solely based upon Saturday’s result: It’s officially safe to put Spain into the conversation of favorites — alongside the likes of Germany, Brazil and France — ahead of next summer.

Injured Iniesta out of Barcelona match at Athletic Bilbao

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Andres Iniesta will not play Saturday’s Spanish league match against Athletic Bilbao because of an injury.

The club says the team captain will not make the trip to Bilbao after pulling a muscle in his right thigh.

Thomas Vermaelen is also not be available, as he is nursing a hip injury.

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Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha, Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal had already been ruled out because of long-term injuries.

Jordi Alba had been listed as doubtful because of his fitness but he has been cleared to play.

The club says Javier Mascherano, who missed practice Friday because of a fever, is also expected to play.

Barcelona has a four-point lead over Valencia, which earlier Saturday plays at second-to-last-place Alaves.

La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.

 

Barcelona says Iniesta’s contract extended ‘for life’

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended Andres Iniesta’s contract “for life.”

[ MORE: Ten teams confirmed for World Cup, more to come Friday? ]

The club did not immediately give any details about the midfielder’s new contract.

The 33-year Iniesta has played 639 matches for the club since making his debut with the first team in October 2002.

Iniesta joined the club’s youth squad when he was 12 in 1996, and along with Lionel Messi is the player with most titles won with the senior squad, with 30.

Andres Iniesta denies contract extension is in place with Barcelona

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Andres Iniesta became the latest current or former Barcelona player to publicly refute comments from club executives.

Iniesta said Wednesday that there is no agreement in place over a potential contract extension to keep him at the club, contradicting Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s claim in a pair of interviews that there is an agreement in place for a rolling contract. Iniesta’s contract expires next June.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

This contradiction follows the two occasions that Barcelona proudly announced Lionel Messi had signed a new contract, only for Messi to reveal there is a verbal agreement but he had yet to put pen to paper. Former winger Neymar also has had harsh words for the club’s board of directors following his massive move this summer to Paris Saint-Germain.

If Barcelona loses Messi and Iniesta too in the next 10 months, it will be a PR nightmare for a club that was at the top of the world over the past decade.