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Spain discovers next midfield talent in Pablo Fornals

September 27, 2018

FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 file photo, Villarreal's Pablo Fornals, center, is challenged by Slavia Praha's Tomas Soucek, right, and Jakub Hromada during the Europa League group A soccer match between Villarreal and Slavia Prague at the Eden stadium in Prague, Czech Republic. Spanish football has found its next great midfielder in the making. Pablo Fornals scored one of the goals of the season in the Spanish league on Wednesday Sept. 26, 2018, when he used one touch of his right boot to score from about 45 meters (50yards) and put Vilarreal on its way to a 3-0 victory at Athletic Bilbao. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish soccer has found its next great midfielder in the making.

Pablo Fornals scored one of the goals of the season in the Spanish league on Wednesday when he used one touch of his right boot to score from about 45 meters (50 yards) and put Villarreal on its way to a 3-0 victory at Athletic Bilbao.

With goalkeeper Unai Simon off his line, Fornals didn’t hesitate to attempt an audacious lob when the ball was knocked into this path by a defender just past the midfield line.

Simon could only watch as it sailed over his head and dipped under the crossbar.

“The ball fell to me on a bounce and I struck it without looking,” Fornals said. “Unai had been playing off his line on more than one occasion and I struck it cleanly. It went in, but it could have just as easily ended up in the last row of the stands at San Mames (Stadium).”

It was the perfect way to mark Fornals’ 100th match in La Liga since he made his debut for Malaga in 2015.

Fornals also showed off his dribbling skills when he befuddled Inigo Martinez, Bilbao’s top defender. Martinez appeared to have Fornals pinned down near the corner, only to be left lurching the wrong way when the midfielder shifted the ball from his right to left foot and then back again before dancing down the end-line.

“For me Fornals was the player of the match,” said Villarreal coach Javi Calleja.

Fornals, 22, was already among the top up-and-coming talents in Spain before he scored the best goal of his budding career.

He caught the attention of Villarreal and other clubs when he emerged as one of Malaga’s best players by scoring six goals in 32 league matches in 2016-17.

Fornals returned to Villarreal, where he had played as a youth for five years, last season after the club paid Malaga 11 million euros (12.8 million dollars) to trigger the buyout clause in his contract, and helped the team finish fifth to earn a Europa League berth.

He is under contract until 2022 but at this rate it would be surprising for him not to make the leap to one of Europe’s top clubs in the near future.

Fornals is also knocking at the door of a Spain side that is in flux since the retirement from international competition of Andres Iniesta and David Silva.

Balancing passing with scoring ability and the peak fitness needed to recover the ball, Fornals fits the mold for the new-look Spain that coach Luis Enrique is forging.

He has played once for the national team, when Vicente del Bosque used him as a late substitute in a 3-1 win over Bosnia in a friendly match in 2016.

Fornals was included in Enrique’s list of potential players for Nations League matches last month, but didn’t make the final squad.

His next chance could come in October, when Spain play Wales in a friendly and England in the Nations League.

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