Marco Asensio takes over the leadership role for Spain at the World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) – From the sidelines at Real Madrid to one of Spain’s most important players at the World Cup. It was a nice turnaround for striker Marco Asensio.

Asensio has only made a few appearances off the bench for Real Madrid under coach Carlo Ancelotti. It was different at Spain, however, where he has become a key member of Luis Enrique’s revamped squad who got off to a strong start in the fight for the second world title.

Asensio scored once in the team’s 7-0 win over Costa Rica in Group E on Wednesday and took a leading role to help ‘La Roja’ open his campaign with a resounding victory.

Spain are attempting to win their first major title since Euro 2012. The next match is on Sunday against Germany, which opened with a 2-1 defeat by Japan.

Luis Enrique, who rarely praises players, didn’t hold back when asked about Asensio’s importance.

“Asensio was spectacular, he’s at a top level,” said Luis Enrique after the game against Costa Rica. “He’s a great player and I’m thrilled he’s playing like this.”

Asensio, who has only started three times for Real Madrid this season, said he has never felt more comfortable with the national team.

“I feel very good,” said Asensio one day after the Spaniards’ opening victory. “I’m comfortable with what Luis Enrique asked of me. and I’m glad he trusts me.”

Asensio was away from the national team for some time until he was called up for Nations League games in June 2021 when Luis Enrique was unable to select many other players due to injuries. Since then he has enjoyed success and secured his place in the squad.

“I was thrilled when I got the call from Luis Enrique,” he said. “I was dying to return and I’m glad I made the most of my opportunity.”

Luis Enrique has used Asensio in various positions, including on the ‘wrong 9’ and as a striker, which was the case in the opener when the coach favored Asensio over regular Álvaro Morata in the starting XI.

“Luis Enrique told me from day one that I would play in different positions,” said 26-year-old Asensio.

He said the World Cup could help him turn things around at club level, whether he stays at Madrid or leaves when his contract expires after next season.

“A World Cup is always important for a player, I don’t know if it’s a turning point, but it’s very important for me,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to this World Cup because of everything that’s happened and because this group is so special.”

It is Asensio’s second World Cup after three appearances at the 2018 tournament in Russia, when Spain lost to the hosts in the round of 16. He failed to make the Spain squad at last year’s European Championship but was in the team that reached the final of the Tokyo Olympics and won a silver medal.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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