Sweden defeat clears Spain's path to World Cup as Greece beaten
As legendary former Atlético Madrid striker Kiko put it on Spanish radio, on Friday morning there were dark clouds hanging over Spain, but by the end of the day it was clear skies. Before taking to the field at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, La Roja had received the good news that Sweden had lost to Georgia, courtesy of two goals by Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (I’ve checked that spelling three times) that we celebrated as if we had scored them ourselves. After that, it was down to Spain to make the most of that Georgia favour by beating Greece. Only three points would do; a draw was as little use as a defeat, given the way things stood in Group B. Luis Enrique’s men did indeed win, the dark clouds lifted, and now we host Sweden on Sunday knowing a point will be enough to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
De Tomás impresses on debut, Spain given strange penalty
Spain played well, without pulling up any trees. They put in a good first half, at times very good, playing precise, energetic football that opened up cracks in the Greek defensive set-up - five at the back, protected by a bank of four in front of them. There was a scare while it was still 0-0, when Giorgos Masouras finished off a quick break, but he was clearly offside. And shortly afterwards, Spain got their goal, thanks to a slightly odd penalty award - though given the Polish referee Szymon Marciniak was in no doubt it was a spot-kick, we’re not going to argue with him here. And, it should be said, it was no more than Spain deserved for their good play, particularly on the left flank, where José Gayà, Álvaro Morata and Raúl de Tomás were excellent. For De Tomás, it was a debut he can certainly be happy with.
La Roja comfortably protect advantage in second half
In the second half, Spain’s performance dipped a little. Curiously, when Greece opened up - they had little choice - and weren’t quite so obstinate a unit in defence, La Roja began to drift, and the substitutions Luis Enrique made didn’t really remedy that. But the visitors saw the game out without suffering any grave threats to their lead, and managed to give Greece something to think about on the odd counter-attack ably led by Dani Olmo in collaboration with Rodrigo Moreno. The second half was less enjoyable for us than the first, but when the final whistle went we were top of the group, and Sweden suddenly don’t seem so frightening. There’s no room for complacency, of course, but it’s clear for everyone to see that Luis Enrique has got his team functioning the way he wants. Qatar feels very close.