Spain beats Albania in return to Barcelona after 18 years

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain received a warm welcome in its return to Catalonia and responded by beating Albania 2-1 in its first match in Barcelona in 18 years on Saturday.

Dani Olmo scored a 90th-minute winner to give La Roja the victory in front of more than 35,000 packing Espanyol’s RCDE Stadium.

The first of Spain’s two friendlies in the international break prompted coach Luis Enrique to experiment with his squad ahead of the World Cup in Qatar this year. Spain next hosts Iceland in A Coruña on Tuesday.

A huge banner with “Barcelona” written on Spain’s red and yellow flag was unveiled on the grandstands before the friendly on Saturday, and the crowd several times chanted “Viva España.”

“I don’t remember a game in which I played or coached where the fans were so decisive,” Luis Enrique said. “We can’t wait another 18 years to play here again.”

Spain’s last game in Barcelona in 2004 was a win against Peru in a friendly at Montjuic Olympic Stadium. Any chance of playing there earlier than Saturday was delayed in 2017 when Catalan secessionists failed to pull off a breakaway attempt from Spain, igniting a deep political crisis in the Iberian country. Spain’s record in the Catalan city is 10 wins, five draws and three losses.

Torres, who plays for Barcelona, opened the scoring from inside the area in the 75th.

Albania equalized when a clearing attempt by Spain defender Pau Torres ricocheted off Myrto Uzuni’s head and trickled across the line past goalkeeper David Raya, who was making his national debut.

Olmo’s winner came with a beautiful curling strike into the top corner after an assist by Jordi Alba.

The buildup started with Pedri González, who was back on the national team for the first time since the semifinals of the European Championship last year, when Spain lost to eventual champion Italy.

It was Spain’s eighth win in as many matches against Albania.

Spain was without striker Raúl de Tomás because of a shoulder injury in training.

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