Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio capped a magnificent few months with a recall to the Spain squad on Friday for a friendly with Colombia and World Cup qualifier at Macedonia next month.
Young Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa also gets the nod, but otherwise coach Julen Lopetegui kept faith with the squad that tops Group G on goal difference from Italy in the race for Russia 2018.
Striker Asensio 21, who has two caps for Spain, has emerged as a key player as Real surged into the Champions League final and to the verge of the La Liga title.
He is also named in the under-21 squad for the Euros in Poland between June 16-30.
OFFICIAL: Spain have confirmed their squad for the U21 Euros in Poland this June.— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 19, 2017
Marco Asensio is in both. pic.twitter.com/DAYnS5OPwm
The 22-year-old Kepa was also called up in March because of injury to Pepe Reina but is yet to feature for his country.
Spain host Colombia in a friendly on June 7 in Murcia, although the likes of Asensio and other Real players are unlikely to feature because the Champions League final is on June 3.
Spain travel to Macedonia on June 11 in a game they will be expected to win.
Qualification looks set to come down to a September 2 showdown against Italy in Madrid.
Here’s a look at some of Asensio’s best performances from this season:
VS SEVILLA, UEFA SUPER CUP, AUGUST 2016
On his competitive debut for Real Madrid, Asensio announced himself to the Madrid faithful with a stunning goal in the UEFA Super Cup.
The goal capped a solid maiden appearance for Los Blancos, who had beaten bitter rivals Barcelona to the midfielder’s signature from Mallorca two years earlier (Asensio spent the rest of that season on loan at Mallorca and was sent out on loan again last season).
Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane had been impressed by Asensio in pre-season, threw him on from the start against Sevilla, and was duly rewarded with an all-around display from the youngster.
VS REAL SOCIEDAD, LA LIGA, AUGUST 2016
Less than two weeks after his star turn in the UEFA Super Cup, Asensio was handed his first league start in a tough away assignment against Real Sociedad.
The youngster came through with flying colours, linking well with the rest of the Madrid attack and scoring his side’s second goal on the night.
It was a sign of things to come from Asensio, who has excelled whenever he’s been given the chance this season.
VS SEVILLA, COPA DEL REY, JANUARY 2017
Against the team he faced on his Madrid debut, Asensio had yet another highlight real moment five months later.
In a thrilling 3-3 draw, the youngster scored Madrid’s first goal with a superb solo run, going the length of the pitch after a Sevilla corner.
Madrid would win the tie in the second leg, but the first-leg performance from Asensio was crucial in keeping the team in the hunt.
VS BAYERN MUNICH, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, APRIL 2017
Asensio scored the goal that finally killed the tie against Bayern Munich, who had done extremely well to come back from a 2-1 home loss and take the quarter-final into extra time in Madrid.
After Cristiano Ronaldo completed a hat-trick, things were looking bleak for Bayern, trailing by two goals in the tie, but they’d shown enough spirit to suggest that two goals in the final ten minutes wouldn’t be completely beyond them.
But Asensio broke the German giants’ resistance with another superb solo goal (a theme seems to be emerging). It was the highest-profile goal of the young Spaniard’s career.
VS BARCELONA, LA LIGA, APRIL 2017
Although this performance didn’t feature a goal, it did carry enough evidence that Asensio is ready to perform on the biggest stage.
In one of the biggest games in world football, Asensio was the first man off the bench, coming on as a first-half substitute for the injured Gareth Bale – a telling show of faith from Zidane.
Asensio was a constant menace down the right side of Madrid’s attack, giving Barcelona’s defence a tough time in a what turned out to be a classic Clasico.
Real Madrid went into Wednesday night’s game against Celta Vigo knowing that as long as they didn’t lose, the destiny of the La Liga title would remain in their hands.
They left Balaídos with a comprehensive 4-1 win, courtesy of two well-taken Cristiano Ronaldo strikes and singles from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos.
Zinedine Zidane’s men need just one point against Malaga on Sunday to secure the title.
Here, we focus on Ronaldo’s performance.
Goals – 2
Assists – 0
Shots – 3
Pass accuracy – 77%
Passes – 31
Key Passes – 0
Touches – 45
Dribbles – 2
Dispossessed – 3
Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored 367 goals in Europe's top five leagues, breaking Jimmy Greaves' record! pic.twitter.com/yISd4J2EKY— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 17, 2017
Given that Ronaldo has more or less become an out-and-out striker, there’s only one way to measure his effectiveness: goals.
The Madrid striker scored from his first two clear-cut chances, displaying lethal conviction and accuracy. He could have registered a hat-trick, but two goals from three shots is a formidable return.
If he continues in this form, not only will Real Madrid win the La Liga title on Sunday, but they’ll be well-equipped in their Champions League final against Juventus. Ronaldo won’t miss from the sort of chances that Monaco had across both legs of their semi-final against the Italians.
10th min: Ronaldo didn’t take long to have an impact on the game. Collecting possession from just outside the box, Ronaldo took a touch before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Celta Vigo keeper Sergio Alvarez – with his so-called weaker left foot. The strike took him past Jimmy Greaves for most goals in Europe’s top five leagues – this was his 367th.
48th min: Isco led an electric foray into the Celta Vigo half and slipped the ball in to Ronaldo with a perfectly-weighted pass, and from there, the Portuguese star slotted home his second of the game.
75th min: The moment Ronaldo should have sealed his hat-trick. He was picked out in plenty of space just 12 yards from game, tried dummying the keeper, and ended up missing the target altogether. The only blemish on his performance.
This reinvented Ronaldo doesn’t quite get the pulses racing the way he did ten years ago, but he’s arguably even more dangerous at present.
Against Celta Vigo, he showed again that if he gets even a sniff of goal, he’s likely to score. It’s the sort of performance he’s been putting in consistently over the second half of this season, with 13 goals in his last eight games to put Real Madrid on the brink of an historic double.
Ronaldo man........ Delivering the league when it matters. That Ballon d'Or stamp. Legit.— 'Zatore (@Cerebrone) May 17, 2017
Ronaldo has now scored 50 goals or more for the 7th consecutive season (for club and country) GOAT🐐— BallonDor #5 (@HaIaRonaldo) May 17, 2017
Ronaldo most clutch player of all time💉💉💉💉💉💉— BallonDor #5 (@HaIaRonaldo) May 17, 2017
Cristiano Ronaldo’s left foot is better than your favorite player’s preferred foot— Saksham (@GolazoCristiano) May 17, 2017
Cristiano Ronaldo might have grabbed the headlines with two more goals, with secondary mentions for Nacho after his cheeky quickly-taken free-kick, but Real Madrid’s victory over Sevilla on Sunday night also owed a lot to one of the team’s unsung heroes.
The game was nowhere near as comfortable for Los Blancos as the eventual 4-1 scoreline suggests, with Sevilla enjoying the better of the first hour and creating several clear chances to add more goals than Stevan Jovetic’s strike just after the break.
One of the reasons they didn’t was ill fortune, with the always dangerous Jovetic seeing two excellent first-half strikes bounce to safety off the woodwork.
Another, though, was Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who made some outstanding saves in the opening half, especially when he clawed away a close-range strike from the luckless Jovetic just before the break.
It was by no means the first time that Navas has come to his team’s rescue, with their tendency to lose balance often leaving the Costa Rican goalkeeper over-exposed and far busier than he would like.
More often than not he has come through with flying colours, but that still hasn’t been enough to prevent speculation that he will be replaced by David De Gea this summer.
It’s not the first time Navas has been in this position, of course. In the summer of 2015 he got as far as Madrid airport, waiting to board a flight to Manchester after the clubs agreed a swap deal for the two goalkeepers, before the transfer (to his great relief) broke down when the paperwork wasn’t completed in time.
Even though two full seasons have passed, Navas has never quite been able to escape the suspicion that he is merely a glorified long-term understudy, keeping De Gea’s gloves warm until his much anticipated move to the Bernabeu finally comes off.
It’s been a difficult situation for the ex-Levante man but Navas has coped extremely well, generally producing solid performances and quickly atoning for the inevitable errors which affect any goalkeeper.
Zinedine Zidane on potential move for David De Gea: "We have Keylor Navas, he has been and is fundamental, like always." pic.twitter.com/rzsXJNmstD— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 15, 2017
On Sunday night, he once again demonstrated his value, and as Madrid enter their final three games of the season hoping to clinch a domestic and European double, maybe he should receive more recognition – before he leaves.