A fortuitous own goal handed Spain a valuable 1-0 win over Macedonia on Tuesday as they took another step towards reaching Euro 2016.
Juan Mata’s eighth-minute cross came back off the crossbar and went in via the head of goalkeeper Tome Pacovski to secure a victory that puts Vicente del Bosque’s side two points clear at the top of Group C.
Spain dictated most of the game in Skopje, but were unable to add a second, though they head into the final two qualifiers in confident mood.
David de Gea was recalled to the starting XI despite having missed all of Manchester United’s season so far due to the intense speculation that surrounded his failed move to Real Madrid, while Diego Costa led the line for the European champions.
And it took Spain just eight minutes to take the lead, albeit with a huge slice of luck. Mata’s free-kick from the right found its way back at the feet of the Manchester United man, and his right-footed cross looped up and onto the crossbar only to cross the line after deflecting off Pacovski.
Spain turned on the style a few moments later, with Isco and David Silva combining superbly to send Costa through, but the Chelsea striker could only fire into the side-netting.
Macedonia had De Gea troubled when Milovan Petrovic rifled narrowly over from close range before Silva saw a free-kick deflected wide.
Gerard Pique, who kept his place in the side despite more recent controversy concerning his reception from the Spanish faithful, thought he had won a penalty after he tangled with Kire Ristevski, but the referee awarded a foul against the Barcelona defender.
Dani Carvajal almost repeated Mata’s earlier effort as his cross from the right cannoned off the crossbar, and Juan Bernat’s follow-up was parried by Pacovski.
Ferhan Hasani almost drew the home side level just after the break as his free-kick flew narrowly over the top-right corner, before Isco fired just wide and Silva spurned a good chance as he failed to get the ball from beneath his feet when inside the area.
Spain continued to boss possession but struggled to create many meaningful chances against a disciplined home side, and Hasani was denied a clear shot at goal by a timely lunge from Sergio Busquets as Macedonia attacked on the break.
Del Bosque’s side saw off a spirited late fight from Macedonia to secure the points and edge closer to a place in next year’s showpiece in France.