Spain put on an exhibition, which is also an ominous display of their quality.
It might be far too early to call this 7-0 rout a victory of champions, but it’s fair to say it was the most complete and convincing team performance of this World Cup 2022 so far. Spain have announced themselves, in a manner similar to the 4-1 evisceration over Russia that sparked their Euro 2008 win.
The only pity was that there were so few people here to see it, Spain’s grand showcase also highlighting one of the less serious but still significant problems of this World Cup. There was never any hint, however, that Luis Enrique’s team would suffer from one of the growing football issues of this World Cup.
Far from arriving undercooked – as group rivals Germany, Argentina and other big sides look – Spain have the sense of a team coming together.
And, yes, it was only Costa Rica. But Pedri is only 19. Gavi is only 18.
Yet here they were combining and completely controlling an opening World Cup game in a manner that was as effervescent as it was effortless.
That is also why it had significance beyond the opposition.
Spain have a history of starting these tournaments in an anxious manner, any low block or early struggle to score greatly heightening nerves in a manner that wastefully reduces their quality. You only had to look at Euro 2020, which was a campaign that required a few long nights of the soul for them to grow into. They ended it superbly, in a manner they have carried through here, but still lacking something.
This was a display where they filled so many gaps, taking the team up a level, and leaving Costa Rica struggling to cover space. That was the brilliance of the Spanish display, and why they so far look to have a better idea of football than anyone else, if not necessarily the best squad.
There was a bite and intensity about their performance that will have had Luis Enrique delighted with this win. This was precisely the kind of impetus he was intent on introducing to Spain’s possession game.
There was no passive passing here. It was all purpose all the time, from the first minute to the last.
The carousel became a blender. It was an early release, and a rise.
Costa Rica, it should be acknowledged, were so soft they were so easily cut up. Spain, however, went well beyond just beating what was in front of them.
They put on a show. They played with full conviction, which could be seen with the finishes of Marco Asensio (the second), Gavi (the fifth) and Carlos Soler (the sixth). All were absolutely driven in, no hesitation or doubt allowed.
It was still the first goal that was the best, and perhaps the best illustration of what this Spain are about.
After a swift interchange of passes that just sliced gaps in Costa Rica, Gavi added imagination to their intricacy with a deft little flick. Dani Olmo then took that on with a smart touch to finish well. Spain were away, and not looking back.
The Costa Rican bench must have struggled to watch. They had still seen a superb combination of collective quality and individual inspiration.
Even Ferran Torres’ penalty, and first goal, came from movement that was just too much for Costa Rica.
There was so much happening here that it is hard to pick out the best of it but it’s difficult to look beyond Gavi and Pedri.
As to whether Spain are now the favourites, it’s too early to say whether they are the equivalent of Andres Iniesta and Xavi in 2008 but they are growing together in a similar way. Everything comes from them, their quality elevating them, and forming a very sophisticated core with Sergio Busquets and improvised centre-half Rodri.
If that is what everyone else at this World Cup will now look to, as they talk up the new stars, Luis Enrique will be just as pleased with the contribution of some of the support cast.
Olmo stepped up. Jordi Alba enjoyed his best display in a Spanish shirt since Euro 2012. Sergio Busquets, bar one pass, looked with it again. Alvaro Morata then crowned the display with his first World Cup goal and Spain’s seventh on the night, ensuring a player who dwells on such things won’t have to wait to score this time. Torres will fancy his chances of the golden boot, however, given the amount of opportunities he was enjoying. He also showed an opportunism within that as he turned in Spain’s fourth and his second with an instinctive response and turn.
Perhaps the biggest caveat to this wasn’t that it was Costa Rica, however, but that Spain have another World Cup precedent beyond nervous openings.
They have also had overenthusiastic openings, flattering to deceive in a way that became infamous before 2008. That was what happened in 1986 and, perhaps most relevantly, 2006.
It is possible, perhaps even likely, this is a team that is still too young to actually go and win a tournament.
They have more than suggested their potential, though. They have shown it is going to be very difficult for anyone to get the ball off them, let alone beat them,
Almost as importantly, it’s going to be even harder for anyone to better that in terms of entertainment.
This, still, was so much more than an exhibition.