Morata scores as Spain tops Ukraine in Euro 2016 qualifying match
SEVILLE, Spain (AP) — Alvaro Morata scored in his first start for Spain to secure a 1-0 win at home over Ukraine in a European championship qualifier on Friday.
The Juventus forward chipped in the game's only goal in the 18th minute after receiving an exquisite pass from Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion.
Ukraine improved in the second half through Ruslan Rotan, but the midfielder couldn't beat goalkeeper Iker Casillas on three occasions.
"Morata came through and scored, that's why we put him there," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque. "We played well in the first half, but we had trouble scoring. Our effort then dropped and we let them dictate the rest of the match. The second have left a bad taste."
Spain moved into second place in Group C, three points ahead of Ukraine in third.
Slovakia remained the group leader after beating Luxembourg 3-0, while Belarus fought back 2-1 at Macedonia.
Slovakia had no trouble keeping Luxembourg at the bottom of the group after first-half goals by Adam Nemec, Vladimir Weiss and Peter Pekarik.
In Seville, a minute of silence was held at Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium before kickoff in memory of victims of the Germanwings airplane tragedy.
Morata only started in place of the injured Diego Costa, and he responded by scoring his first goal in his third appearance for the defending European champions.
The 22-year-old Real Madrid youth product has continued to improve after his move to Juventus this season. He has scored nine goals so far for the Serie A champions.
Spain's victory was its 15 in a row in European championship qualifiers played at home. It also took its unbeaten streak on Spanish soil to 30 straight competitive matches, a run dating back to June 2003.
Rotan's first opportunity came in the 17th when he fired Artem Fedestkiy's headed pass by the post.
Otherwise, Spain dominated the first half as Morata put the hosts in front.
Koke used one touch to knock Andres Iniesta's long ball into the path of Morata, who fended off his marker before lifting the ball over goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov.
Spain went close to doubling its advantage when Sergio Ramos headed the ball off the corner of the goalframe four minutes before halftime.
Ukraine's only consistent threat was through set pieces until its pressure unnerved Spain start of the second half.
Casillas had to stopping Rotan's free kick in the 59th, which was meant to be a pass but almost became a goal. Moments later, he made amends for his own errant pass by blocking Rotan's hard strike.
Casillas again was needed to frustrate Rotan in the 66th after Ukraine's first orchestrated attack down the left culminated in another chance for the midfielder.
Spain left back Jordi Alba asked to be substituted in the 77th after hurting his right leg.
Sergei Kornilenko completed Belarus' comeback with a goal in the 82nd, following Timofei Kalachev's goal in the 41st to cancel out Aleksandar Trajkovski early opener for Macedonia.
Belarus moved ahead of Macedonia into fourth place.