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Macedonia 1-2 Spain 2018 World Cup Group G qualifier: Report, goals, action

Spain made life hard for themselves despite a two goal advantage heading into the second half, as their constant assault on Macedonia's goal was nearly undone by their opponents' counter attacks.

Update:
Spain's Diego Costa (R) celebrates with teammate Sergio Ramos after scoring a goal during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Macedonia and Spain at Philip II of Macedon Stadium in Skopje on June 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Robert A
ROBERT ATANASOVSKIAFP

Macedonia 1-2 Spain: match report

Spain made life difficult for themselves against a Macedonia side that offered little for a large chunk of the game in King Philip II Arena in Skopje on Sunday night. 

As expected, Spain set out their stall early by holding over 70% of possession through the opening quarter of an hour. It would remain at or above that mark throughout the game. It also meant that once David Silva's half-blocked strike after 15 minutes rolled beyond Dimitrievski, the home side's task in getting back into the game grew close to impossible. 

They remained compact in defense but rarely, if ever, troubled Spain's defenders as the visitors continued to tap lightly on the door without ever truly getting too obnoxious for the hosts.

On 27 minutes, it looked like the score could be anything when Isco danced free down the right and squared to a completely unmarked Diego Costa just a couple of yards from goal as he finished for one of the easiest goals of his career. A tap-in that looked like it might be the prequel to something bigger that Spain had up their sleeve. But it never came.

The second half carried on much like the first half had played out. Spain could not find that third goal to give themselves some breathing room. The wind was taken from their sails along with any hope of an easy run-in when Pandev played Ristovski through before he left Ramos in his wake and blasted beyond David de Gea to leave Spain with a nervy last 23 minutes.

It was Macedonia who seemed to be in the ascendency at that point but the game was getting more open than they might have liked. Spain's poor finishing and lack of precision in their attack was hurting them and helping Maceodnia as they could, and needed to, push forward in search of more without Spain being able to kill off the game.

It ended 2-1 with a late penalty shout for the home side being waved away as Nestorovski felt like he was caught by Ramos in the penalty area as he drove towards goal. It would have been harsh and somewhat undeserved for Spain to drop points in a game they dominated for much of and the referee waved away the home side's appeals.

Still, Lopetegui has problems to solve ahead of Italy in September or a more clinical side will pick them apart at the back when they decide it's time to switch off.

Macedonia v Spain live stream online: latest news

Macedonia v Spain live stream online: preview

Julen Lopetegui’s Spain go into this evening’s qualifier sitting top of Group G, level on points with Italy but with a superior goal difference. With Italy simultaneously kicking off at home against home to bottom-of-the-group Liechtenstein tonight, it is vital that La Roja make sure they gain a big win In Skopje. Both teams posted identical scorelines when they met their respective rivals back in NovemberVitolo, Monreal and Aduriz found the net as Spain beat Macedonia 4-0 in Granada. Lopetegui knows his team must gain a similar result, or a better one, in Skopje to maintain that goal average before they face Italy in Madrid in Matchday 7 at the start of September.

Six players one card away from suspension

Ensuring the team boosts their goal difference won’t be the only thing on Spain’s minds ahead of that forthcoming clash with Italy. Six first team regulars are one booking away from suspension and could potentially miss the Italy game is they go into Polish ref Pawel Gil’s notebook this evening – Piqué, Ramos, Busquets, Thiago, Vitolo and Diego Costa are teetering on the border of a one-match suspension. Lopetegui is taking nothing for granted, saying on the eve of the game that he is expecting “a very demanding game in which we will be pushed to our limits”.

Macedonia, lying second from bottom in the group with three points from one win (they beat Liechtenstein 0-3 in March) have no chance of being at Russia 2018. The team, coached by Igor Angelovski, have never made the finals – but came close to making the play-offs for the 98 finals in France, ending just three points away from third place in their group. In the FIFA/Coca Cola rankings they slipped down three places to 136th but obviously they’d like to improve their position in the standings and if possible, finish above Albania. There were still tickets available for the match on the eve of the game but Angelovski has made a plea for support from the public, some have already prepared a giant tifo to unfurl before kick-off while cut-down ticket prices ranging from four to 15 euros, will hopefully ensure the 33,000-seater stadium is close to full capacity.

Palermo striker Aleksandar Trajkovski promised that Macedonia “would go all out to make things difficult for Spain” and added that in their favour, they have had enough time to prepare well for the game. “We’ll be playing against one of the best teams in the world, we’ve nothing to lose”, said coach Angelovski.

Macedonia team news

Igor Angelovski’s troops warmed up for Spain’s visit with a friendly against Turkey last weekend. There was much expectation that promising midfielder Jani Atanasov might make his senior debut but the teenager remained on the bench and it seems unlikely he will he handed his first cap against Spain although you never know. Otherwise, Macedonia will be at full strength

Man to watch: Ilija Nestorovski. Any chances that Macedonia get in front of David de Gea’s goal will surely involve the 27-year-old centre-forward – a classic penalty area predator who has a killer instinct and can finish with either foot or with his head. As well as scoring goals, Nestogol is also a bit handy at setting them up for his team mates. An intelligent forward, blessed with good technique and a keen reading of the game.

Spain team news

Lopetegui is expected to field his strongest XI as Spain have to win by a bigger margin as possible. The coach is a little worried that Macedonia will play a highly defensive game which is why he could field his most creative midfield with Iniesta, Silva and Isco looking for ways to pierce the hosts’ rearguard. Asier Illarramendi was handed his debut in Wednesday’s 2-2 friendly draw against Colombia which served as a warm-up for this game but he will likely watch from the bench. Azpilicueta, who has been superb all season for Chelsea and started against Colombia could lose his place as Dani Carvajal and Sergio Ramos return. It remains to be seen whether Diego Costa or Álvaro Morata will start up front – Morata was superb against Colombia which could persuade the coach into starting with him.

Man to watch: Álvaro Morata. Morata has looked like a man on a mission during the season just gone. The striker has a point to prove as he looked to carve out a regular place in the Real Madrid attack and he looked sharp whenever he came off the bench, scoring 15 and setting up four in the league alone. He replaced Iago Aspas 10 minutes into the second half against Colombia and spared Spain’s blushes with a great finish to level the score with just minutes left to play. A gifted finisher with either foot, superb in the air, Morata is a striker who times his runs into the box with Swiss precision. Whether he starts or comes on to mop up, he will be one of the players to keep an eye on tonight.

Macedonia v Spain: possible line-ups

Macedonia: Dimirievski; Ristevski, Mojsov, Shikov, Ristovski; Hasani, Stjepanovic, Spirovski; Alioski, Pandev, Nestorovski,

Spain: De Gea; Carvajal, Piqué, Ramos, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Thiago, Iniesta, Silva, Vitolo, Morata.

Macedonia v Spain: live stream betting odds

The bookies are anticipating lots of goals with more or less even odds for a result of more than three goals. A 2-1 home win is currently at 71/1 while Sergio Ramos is 13/1 to open the scoring. Aleksandar Trajkovski is at 15/1 to have the final word and score the last goal of the match and Álvaro Morata is 13/1 to score a hat trick.

Bet on Macedonia v Spain’s 2018 World Cup qualifier now

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