Yamal, 16, leads Spain's new generation to 3-0 win over Croatia at Euro 2024

BERLIN (AP) — Lamine Yamal became the youngest player to appear in a European Championship as Spain’s new generation brushed aside Croatia’s challenge 3-0 in their opening game on Saturday.

And the Spanish did it without dominating ball possession for the first time in 136 competitive games tallied by stats analyst Opta. Spain had only 46% possession against Croatia, according to UEFA.

Yamal, aged 16 years, 338 days, also became the youngest to set up a goal at the tournament when he crossed for Dani Carvajal to score Spain’s third goal before the break.

The 21-year-old Nico Williams starred on the other flank for Spain, which is going for its fourth European title.

Midfielder Fabián Ruiz scored one goal and set up the opener for captain Álvaro Morata in a dominant performance from the team in red.

“We have to stay wary, stay calm and be proud. We have to keep improving in the next game,” Spain coach Luis De La Fuente said. He warned Spanish journalists not to get carried away. “We just have to stay calm and be professional.”

Spain goalkeeper Unai Simón saved a penalty in the 80th from substitute Bruno Petković, who thought he scored when Ivan Perišić sent in the rebound. But the goal was ruled out after a VAR review as Perišić was too keen and encroached on the penalty area before Petković took the spot kick.

Defending champion Italy was playing Albania in the other Group B game later.

The Croatia fans, who greatly outnumbered their Spanish counterparts, tried rousing the team before the end at Berlin’s Olympiastadion, where the final will be played on July 14.

Hundreds gathered before the game near the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin, and also at Breitscheidplatz in the west of the city, where they set off flares, waved flags, jumped up and down, and sang along to Croatian folk songs.

Croatian emigrants were among those who moved to Germany as so-called guest workers to help the country’s post-war economy and never returned. Germany also became home to many Croatian refugees who fled the country’s war of independence in the 1990s.

But it was a disappointing start to Euro 2024 from Zlatko Dalić's team. The Spanish players were faster, more committed, and cleverer. Last-ditch defending from Spain defenders Marc Cucurella and Nacho snuffed out any other danger.

“We weren’t aggressive enough, we were too far from the (Spanish) players, and when you give such players so much space, you don’t have opportunities,” Dalić said.

Croatia star Luka Modrić, who played at Euro 2008 before Yamal was even born, was unable to assert his usual influence. The 38-year-old Modrić was given a warm embrace by Real Madrid teammates Nacho and Carvajal before the teams walked out onto the field, getting a kiss on the cheek from each.

When Modrić and Mateo Kovačić went off in the 65th, it was clear Dalić was already thinking of the next game.

“They played for an hour and we realized we have two difficult matches in front of us. We didn’t want to force them to the end,” Dalić said.

Croatia plays Albania in Hamburg on Wednesday, while Spain faces Italy in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday.


AP Euro 2024:

Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press