Spain’s emphatic WC statement in 6-1 Argentina demolition
SPAIN delivered a resounding message about its World Cup chances as Isco scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 demolition of Argentina in Madrid.
Diego Costa was back in the starting line-up for the first time in eight international matches and he marked his return with the opening goal as Spain ripped apart an opponent supposedly also in the running for the title in Russia.
Isco then scored twice either side of what proved to be no more than a consolation goal from Argentina's Nicolas Otamendi, before Thiago Alcantara added a fourth before the hour.
Substitute Iago Aspas made it five, latching on to a long pass downfield from David de Gea, only for Isco to score his third, and Spain's sixth, with 16 minutes left.
As irresistable as Spain was going forward, Argentina was lamentable at the back and coach Jorge Sampaoli will have questions to answer with the World Cup less than three months away.
He might cling to the hope of Lionel Messi, whose hamstring strain meant he was not even in the squad at the Wanda Metropolitano, instead left to watch on from the stands.
Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria were also out injured, but Argentina's problem was less creating chances than containing Spain's as Costa, Isco and Marco Asensio simply proved too quick to catch.
Asensio is likely still to give way to David Silva, but Costa showed he is ready to be Spain's main striker, this game completing his reintegration after an autumn disrupted by his Chelsea departure.
It was a harrowing night for Argentina but perhaps not a good one either for Alvaro Morata. Costa's goal, coming before Aspas entered as a substitute to score one and set up two more, meant the Chelsea forward was hardly missed.
The victory also means Spain has scored in all its 18 games under Julen Lopetegui, a new record for a Spanish coach.
Without Messi, Gonzalo Higuain was the visitors' principle threat up front, with Ever Banega, Maximiliano Meza and Giovani Lo Celso given the chance to impress behind him in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
For Spain, Lopetegui adopted a 4-3-3.
In a week where the Catalan crisis continued to dominate the Spanish headlines, Barcelona's Pique was whistled by the home fans whenever he received possession.
There was applause too from some sections of the crowd and the jeers were temporarily drowned out by cheers when a thundering Pique tackle prevented a threatening Argentina break.
After a bright start, however, Argentina conceded twice in quick succession before facing the humiliation of Spanish supporters celebrating their team's every pass with less than 30 minutes gone.
First, Costa put his body where others might not, bundling the ball in between the leaping Fabricio Bustos and goalkeeper Sergio Romero, the latter forced off as a result and replaced by Willy Caballero.
Cabellero was then at fault for Spain's second, as his poor clearance landed at the feet of Thiago. Three passes later, the last from Asensio, allowed Isco to "sidefoot" home.
Argentina pulled one back before half-time when Otamendi headed in Banega's cross, but its defence would only keep the side competitive for so long.
With Costa substituted, Aspas made an instant impact, twice breaching the offside trap before setting up first Isco and then Thiago for 4-1 after 55 minutes.
Otamendi headed against the post after he was again left unmarked from a corner but it was not long before Spain was in again.
This time it needed only one pass as De Gea launched one ball downfield and Aspas was free to finish.
Isco guided into the corner for his hat-trick in the 74th minute. Argentina looked relieved when the final whistle blew.