Defending champion Spain stayed perfect in qualifying for the 2012 European Championship by winning 3-1 at Lithuania on Tuesday in another dominant performance inspired by midfielder Xavi Hernandez.
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Xavi scored in the 19th minute when his shot from outside the area deflected over goalkeeper Zydrunas Karcemarskas at Dariaus ir Gireno Stadium.
Despite having little of the play, Lithuania equalized through Marius Stankevicius’ long-range shot in the 57th.
Xavi set Juanma Mata free down the wing before Lithuania defender Tomas Razanauskas guided the substitute’s pass into his own goal in the 70th minute.
Mata scored the third goal with seven minutes to play.
Spain leads Group I with 15 points with three games to play, six points more than the Czech Republic, which beat Liechtenstein 2-0.
Lithuania is fourth in the five-team group with four points, the same as Scotland. Liechtenstein is last with zero.
”It was an important result today, especially with the state of the field, which was woeful,” Xavi said after helping Spain to its 11th straight competitive win. ”We reached our objective, so we can go forward happy … the team played a complete game.”
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque made five changes to the team that beat the Czech Republic 2-1 on Friday, with Fernando Torres and Andres Iniesta not used from the substitutes bench.
Athletic Bilbao trio Fernando Llorente, Javi Martinez and Andoni Iraiola all started on a playing field that Xavi compared to a ”sandlot.”
”That in 2011 we’re playing on a field like this is sad,” said the Barcelona playmaker, whose ninth goal came in his 101st appearance. ”You can’t play football on a field like this.”
Spain’s quick-passing game was slowed by the conditions, but the European and world champions were always in control.
Llorente laid the ball off in the 11th for Santi Cazorla, whose weak shot was smothered by Karcemarskas.
Eight minutes later, Xavi’s shot hit Andrius Skerla and found the net to put the hosts further on the backfoot.
Mindaugas Panka shot wide in the 23rd in the Lithuanian’s first real chance.
Llorente’s ability to hold the ball up helped create many of Spain’s chances, with David Villa also dangerous from wide positions. Karcemarskas denied Llorente’s shot in the 41st after the Basque striker was played clear into the area by Cazorla’s floated pass.
Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas was tested just before the break, stretching to stop Edgaras Cesnauskis’ long-range shot.
Karcemarskas again saved from Llorente after the restart, before Stankevicius latched on to a bouncing ball well outside the area to fire through a crowd and beyond Casillas.
But Spain quickly responded.
Karcemarskas stopped Xabi Alonso’s goal-bound free kick in the 65th before Razanauskas scored an own goal with Llorente poised to shoot the ball into the net.
Mata, who had replaced Cazorla, slipped a low shot from the left past Karcemarskas to score.
”We have a full squad and we have to use it and we used it well in this game,” said Del Bosque, who also replaced Villa with David Silva in the second half.
Defender Sergio Ramos came on in the 90th, the 24-year-old Real Madrid fullback becoming the youngest Spain player to reach 75 caps.
”Our team did our best,” Stankevicius said. ”But Spain is a team of entirely different class and our efforts were not enough to challenge them.”
Lithuania: Zydrunas Karcemarskas, Deividas Semberas, Tadas Kijanskas, Marius Stankevicius, Saulius Mikoliunas (Tomas Razanauskas, 71), Andrius Skerla, Edgaras Cesnauskis, Marius Zaliukas, Mindaugas Panka, Tomas Danilevicius (Dominykas Galkevicius, 85), Darvydas Sernas (Tadas Labukas, 74).