Roberto Soldado scored a hat trick in his long-awaited international return as Spain thrashed Venezuela 5-0 on Wednesday in its final friendly before coach Vicente del Bosque picks his European Championship squad.
With all-time leading scorer David Villa injured and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres dropped from the squad for the first time in five years, Spain looked to its talented midfield to put the team on its way to a 24th straight home victory.
Cesc Fabregas set up goals by Andres Iniesta and David Silva before halftime, and Soldado added three more in his first appearance for the national team since 2007.
”It’s a dream to come back to the national team in this way,” Soldado said.
Villa and Torres could still make the final squad for this summer’s European Championship when Spain will try to become the first World Cup winner to defend its European title. But starting striker Fernando Llorente and especially Soldado made strong cases for a place on the final squad Del Bosque will announce in May.
Spain looked for Llorente from the beginning, and the imposing Basque came close with two headers early on while Sergio Ramos hit the crossbar with a header of his own.
But it was the talented triad of attacking midfielders made up by Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas that ensured victory for Spain in its 600th game.
After the three players had created various chances for the hosts, Iniesta broke through for Spain in the 37th when Fabregas threaded a low cross back through a crowd of defenders for his Barcelona teammate alone on the edge of the area to slot into the right corner of the net.
Silva made it 2-0 at La Rosaleda stadium in the 40th after combining with Fabregas, who returned the ball with a deft back-heeled pass that the Manchester City player fired just inside the post with a dipping strike.
Del Bosque sent on Soldado for Llorente at halftime while hometown favorite Santi Cazorla replaced Iniesta.
And five minutes later the two substitutes linked up for Spain’s third goal when Cazorla capped a great buildup by laying off for Soldado to score with a superb flick with the side of his foot from close range.
With the result beyond doubt Venezuela wilted, and in the 54th Soldado was left free to reach Alvaro Arbeloa’s cross and knock it past goalkeeper Daniel Hernandez. The goals were Soldado’s first for the national team in three appearances.
Soldado had a great opportunity for another goal in the 66th after Fernando Amorebieta received a direct red card for pulling him down with only the goalkeeper to beat, leaving Venezuela with 10 men.
But the former Real Madrid youth product struck his spot kick poorly and Hernandez had little trouble saving.
”In the second half the game opened up, and especially after the sending off,” said Soldado. ”But I walk away thinking about the penalty that I should have scored.”
Nineteen-year-old Athletic Bilbao forward Iker Muniain made his debut for Spain in the 75th minute, replacing Fabregas.
”The coach told me to just play like I am used to,” said Muniain. ”This is one of the most important moments in my career. I am very happy to have debuted.”
Soldado got his triple in the 84th by tapping in Valencia teammate Jordi Alba’s cross to cap Spain’s fourth win in as many games against Venezuela.
Venezuela: Daniel Hernandez; Rubert Quijada (Rolf Feltscher, 73), Fernando Amorebieta, Oswaldo Vizcarrondo, Roberto Rosales; Miguel Vitali (Francisco Flores, 82), Tomas Rincon, Julio Alvarez (Cesar Gonzalez, 62); Juan Arango, Nicolas ”Miku” Fedor (Andres Tunez, 68), Jose Rondon (Frank Feltscher, 79).