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Marco Asensio takes leading role for Spain at World Cup

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

Asensio has made just a few appearances from the bench for Real Madrid under coach Carlo Ancelotti. But things have been different with Spain, where he has become a key member of Luis Enrique’s revamped squad that got off to a strong start in its quest to win a second World Cup title.

Asensio scored once in the team’s 7-0 rout of Costa Rica in Group E on Wednesday, taking a leading role to help “La Roja” open its campaign with a resounding victory.

Spain is trying to win its first major title since Euro 2012. Its next match is Sunday against Germany, which opened with a 2-1 loss to Japan.

Luis Enrique, who rarely singles out players for praise, hasn’t held back whenever asked about the importance of Asensio.

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

Asensio, who made only three starts for Real Madrid this season, said he has never felt so comfortable with the national team.

“I’m feeling very well,” Asensio said a day after Spain’s opening victory. “I’m comfortable with what Luis Enrique has been asking of me. and I’m glad that he has confidence in me.”

Asensio had been away from the national team for some time until getting a call-up for Nations League matches in June 2021, when Luis Enrique couldn’t pick many other players because of injuries. He has thrived since, and secured his place in the squad.

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

Luis Enrique has been using Asensio in different positions, including in the “false 9” spot and as a striker, which was the case in the opener, when the coach preferred Asensio over regular starter Álvaro Morata in the starting lineup.

“From the first day, Luis Enrique told me that I was going to play in several different positions,” the 26-year-old Asensio said.

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

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

This is the second World Cup for Asensio after he made three appearances in the 2018 tournament in Russia, when Spain was eliminated by the hosts in the round of 16. He didn’t make it to Spain’s squad at the European Championship last year, but was in the team that reached the final of the Tokyo Olympics, winning 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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