Spain coach Robert Moreno paid tribute to the old guard, and in particular Santi Cazorla, after the midfielder scored his first international goal in four years in the 7-0 demolition of Malta.
The 34-year-old former Arsenal midfielder, who has revitalised both his club and international career back at Villarreal after horrific Achilles problems, scored the hosts’ second before they moved through the gears in the second half.
Spain had already sealed qualification for Euro 2020, but this victory, their seventh from nine qualifiers, confirmed top spot in Group F.
“The contribution of people like Santi (Cazorla), Sergio (Ramos) and Raul (Albiol) – the generation who have already won tournaments – is incalculable,” Moreno said on uefa.com.
“They have such quality and it’s hard to win tournaments without their kind of experience. They’ve accumulated things that they not only contribute in performance but transmit to others.”
On Cazorla, who won the European Championships with Spain in 2008 and 2012, he added: “What Santi’s achieving, his form, after what he went through for nearly three years with his terrible injury problems, is exceptional. Without guys like him and Raul and Sergio it’s hard to win tournament semi-finals and finals.”
Moreno also praised his side for not easing up in the second half, which saw four goals in the space of 10 minutes from Pau Torres, Pablo Sarabia, Dani Olmo and Gerard Moreno before Jesus Navas completed the rout.
“The easiest thing in the world would have been for my players to accept 3-0 or 4-0 and drop their level,” the Spain boss said. “But we hit seven and could easily have scored 10 – that says very good things about their mentality.”
The manager was delighted to see Torres and Olmo mark their debuts with goals after coming off the bench.
“We think it’s pretty historic that both Pau and Dani both came on and scored with their first touch,” he said. “It’s been decades since two subs came on and scored on their debuts.”