Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta struck in the first half as Spain beat Slovakia 2-0 in Oviedo on Saturday to replace their opponents at the top of the Euro 2016 qualifying Group C.
The European champions were beaten 2-1 when the two sides met back in October, but gained revenge with a dominant display at the Estadio Carlos Tartiere to end Slovakia’s 100 per cent record and go above them thanks to a superior head-to-head record.
Barcelona left-back Alba headed Spain into an early lead with his first international goal for two years when he was picked out by a brilliant David Silva pass.
Iniesta then contentiously doubled the hosts’ lead from the penalty spot after Diego Costa had gone down when there appeared to be very little contact from goalkeeper Matus Kozacik.
There was no way back for Slovakia, as Iker Casillas kept a clean sheet in his 100th game as Spain captain to ensure the holders remain on course to qualify for next year’s tournament in France.
Slovakia, who missed suspended captain Martin Sktrel at the heart of their defence, can still seal their place in the European Championships for the first time as an independent nation if they beat Ukraine on Tuesday.
Sergio Ramos breathed a sigh of relief when he was caught in possession by Robert Mak after only four minutes, as the Slovakia winger fired wide of the far post with only Casillas to beat.
Spain took advantage to go in front within a minute of that let-off, thanks in no small part to the impressive Silva.
The Manchester City midfielder conjured up a sublime diagonal pass over the top of the Slovakia defence to pick out marauding full-back Alba, who ghosted in to head home.
Slovakia were struggling to live with Spain’s crisp passing and movement and had a mountain to climb when the home side doubled their lead in somewhat controversial fashion on the half-hour mark.
There appeared to be minimal contact when Costa went down under a challenge from Kozacik as he attempted to round the keeper, but referee Damir Skomina pointed to the spot and Iniesta made no mistake with the resulting spot-kick.
Kozacik was also shown a yellow card and his night should have taken another turn for the worse when Cesc Fabregas’ incisive pass found an unmarked Iniesta, who headed over the crossbar when he should have scored.
Michal Duris replaced Mak at half-time and the substitute almost pulled a goal back when he flashed a left-foot strike past the far post after surging into the area early in the second half.
Spain continued to cause all sorts of problems for the Slovakia defence and Kozacik tipped over Fabregas’ strike after Silva burst into the area and had a shot blocked.
Kozacik then came out to thwart Silva when the playmaker tried to round him and the City man missed another two chances to get his name on the scoresheet, but Spain were comfortable winners.