Spain beats Slovakia 2-0 to tighten race in Euro qualifying
OVIEDO, Spain (AP) Spain beat Slovakia 2-0 to move level on points at the top of their European Championship qualifying group on Saturday.
The win by Vicente del Bosque’s side avenged a stunning 2-1 loss at Slovakia last year that ended Spain’s 36-game unbeaten run in qualifiers.
Jordi Alba headed in a well-placed pass from David Silva to get Spain going in the fifth minute. Andres Iniesta then converted Spain’s dominance into a second goal after Diego Costa earned a penalty kick on the half-hour mark.
It was Slovakia’s first defeat in seven Euro 2016 qualifiers, and Spain moved into first place on head-to-head goal difference.
Also, Ukraine beat Belarus 3-1 to remain in third place, three points behind Spain and Slovakia with three matches left.
Luxembourg edged Macedonia 1-0 with an injury-time goal to escape last place.
”Objective accomplished and on to the next game, we played a pretty well-rounded match,” Iniesta said.
Spain visits Macedonia on Tuesday, while Slovakia hosts Ukraine in a match that will have a bearing on the group’s top-two finish.
After Spain’s poor showing at the 2014 World Cup, Del Bosque said he wanted to slowly rejuvenate the team. But despite calling up new players since then, when Saturday’s match arrived with the group lead on the line, Del Bosque picked 11 players who were in the debacle in Brazil.
His veterans, including goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who captained his 100th international, played like the group that has won the last two European Championships.
Silva started his strong showing by lofting a pass to meet Alba’s run in from the left flank, leaving the back a perfect ball to head home.
Cesc Fabregas then played Diego Costa through with a long pass, and goalie Matus Kozacik fouled him to set up Iniesta’s spot kick.
While doubts about Diego Costa will linger following another scoreless outing- the striker has one goal in eight games for Spain- Del Bosque’s only other problem was the absurd and unseemly jeering directed by Spain’s own fans against Gerard Pique, a former world champion making his 70th appearance.
As in recent matches, some supporters whistled Pique every time he touched the ball, apparently still angry at the Barcelona player for a couple of barbs he has directed toward club rival Real Madrid.
”Our fans in Oviedo were good but what happened to Pique is lamentable,” Del Bosque said. ”It’s very unpleasant that they jeer him. If they came to watch football, Pique played brilliantly.”
Elsewhere, Ukraine eased past Belarus on goals from Artem Kravets, who opened the scoring in the seventh minute, followed by strikes from Andriy Yarmolenko in the 30th, and a penalty from Yevhen Konoplyanka in the 40th. Belarus’ Sergei Kornilenko scored from a spot kick in the 62nd before Ukraine’s Denys Garmash was sent off with two yellow cards.
Luxembourg debutant Sebastien Thill scored in stoppage time to give the tiny nation a win over Macedonia, whose Besart Abdrahimi had a penalty in the 85th saved by goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert.