Finland steals point against Spain

Spain conceded a late goal Friday to draw 1-1 at home with Finland in a World Cup qualifier, jeopardizing its chance to automatically advance to the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

Sergio Ramos marked his 100th appearance for Spain by scoring from a header in the 49th minute after Finland had bunkered down in its area throughout the first half.

But Spain paid for not converting its overwhelming possession into a second goal when Teemu Pukki volleyed into the net from a cross after a 79th-minute counterattack in what was Finland’s first shot on goal.

Spain’s second straight draw left it with eight points in Group I, while Finland has two. France took sole possession of first place on 10 points by beating Georgia 3-1 also on Friday. The group winner automatically qualifies for World Cup, while the runner-up is likely to face a playoff.

Spain visits France on Tuesday in a match that could go a long way toward determining the group winner.

”We are disappointed,” said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who had little to celebrate on his record-setting 69th game with the national team. ”It seems impossible that after dominating the game we lost our concentration. We have four games ahead of us and we have to keep fighting. There are still a lot of points in play.”

Del Bosque broke Ladislao Kubala’s record of most games at the head of the Spanish national team. The former Real Madrid coach has a record of 57 wins, six draws and six losses with Spain.

Almost the entire match at El Molinon Stadium was played on the edge of or inside Finland’s area, as Spain probed the visitors’ tightly packed defense of five midfielders in front of a four-man defense.

With seven Barcelona players in the starting 11, Spain dominated possession from the start against the Scandinavians.

Finland’s defensive stance worked throughout the first 48 minutes, with Spain limited to long strikes by Santi Cazorla and Andres Iniesta that goalkeeper Niki Maenpaa did well to save.

Ramos put Spain in front when he held off his marker and turned David Silva’s corner – Spain’s 10th to none for Iceland at that stage – back inside the near post with a bouncing header.

Down a goal, Finland finally showed some attacking intent, and Pukki surged forward to reach a cross and toe it beyond goalkeeper Victor Valdes, starting in place of the injured Iker Casillas.

Spain pressed for a late winner with substitute Alvaro Negredo going the closest.

”It’s too bad that we let a game that we had controlled get away in the final minutes,” Ramos said. ”Perhaps we lacked the precision needed to score the second goal and finish it off.

”We have to think about France now. We know that we will face a great team, but we also know that we can get the win there.”