LANDOVER, Md. – Defending World Cup champions Spain took on El Salvador on Saturday, a matchup of opponents headed in distinctly different directions.
Spain took the pitch at Fedex Field just days away from departing for Brazil, where La Furia Roja will attempt to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive major tournament. They’d use the match to evaluate the fitness of several key pieces – including Atletico Madrid forward Diego Costa – ahead of their departure.
El Salvador failed to qualify for the World Cup and stepped onto the field less than a year after emerging from a match-fixing scandal that decimated their player pool; La Selecta would hope mainly for a respectable showing.
The result was predictable, yet entertaining – a 2-0 victory for Spain, who rode a David Villa brace to victory in front of a largely pro-Salvadoran crowd which provided warm support for the underdogs.
Spain wasted no time getting to work and could’ve taken the lead just three minutes in. Xabi Alonso played a long, looping ball to Costa, who was fouled at the edge of the area by El Salvador goalkeeper Henry Hernandez. But FC Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas skied the ensuing penalty kick over the crossbar, handing the Salvadorans an early reprieve.
El Salvador fell back for much of the half and did well enough to defend, rarely venturing into the attacking third or even beyond the center stripe. The Spaniards moved the ball with relative ease - cobbling together 400 passes in the opening 45 minutes and possessing the ball at will - but also struggled to find the opening goal.
Fifteen minutes into the second stanza, La Roja would pull ahead. Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos nodded a ball across the area to Costa; newly acquired NYCFC forward Villa, however, headed the ball off of Costa’s foot and into the goal, giving the Spaniards a 1-0 lead, enough to secure the victory. Worn down by the Spanish attack, El Salvador never looked capable of equalizing.
The Spaniards put the game further out of reach in the 87th minute when Villa added his second tally, collecting a cross ten yards from goal, turning and stroking the ball past Hernandez with an impressive, instinctive finish.