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World Cup qualifying: Spain 1 Finland 1

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 22 Mar 2013

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Finland have sensationally denied world champions Spain in Gijon, with the unfancied visitors earning a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw.

Following the script, Real Madrid centre-back Sergio Ramos scored in his 100th international appearance on 49 minutes, heading home from a David Silva corner.

But the Finns made Spain pay on the counter with little over 10 minutes remaining, as a low left-footed cross from Alexander Ring found Teemu Pukki in front of goal, and the Schalke man poked home past Victor Valdes to send the away bench into raptures.

Finland held out in the face of some late Spain pressure, with goalkeeper Niki Maenpaa eventually holding onto the ball following a goalmouth scramble on 90 minutes – one that saw Silva yellow carded for kicking the shot-stopper shortly after he secured possession.

Spain fall two points behind Group I leaders France, who beat Georgia 3-1 at home.

The top two teams meet in a mouth-watering clash at the Stade de France on Tuesday, with the result likely to decide which team secures automatic qualification.

Cesc Fabregas reprised his false-nine role as one of seven Barcelona players in the Spain side, which was a record number of starters from a single team in Spanish World Cup qualifying history.

The hosts were quickly on the front foot, and nearly took an early lead when Niklas Moisander inadvertently deflected Fabregas’ cross toward goal, forcing a fine reflex save out of Manepaa.

The match soon settled into a familiar pattern, as Finland were penned deep in their own half by Spain’s passing football, with Pukki cutting an isolated figure alone up front for the visitors.

Manepaa smothered an early close-range effort from Andres Iniesta, but was forced to work a bit harder to beat away Santi Cazorla’s strike, after the Arsenal man had cut in from the flanks.

Cazorla then completely mishit a loose ball that caught the defence by surprise, before Finland belatedly sniffed out their first decent sight on goal, when Roman Eremenko blasted about a foot over from outside the box.

The match was being played in Spain’s offensive third, but not for the first time, the hosts were frustrated by numbers at the back from their opponents, and could not muster much more than half-chances as the first half petered out.

With their conventional approach stymied, it took a more direct route for Spain to break the deadlock, and it was Ramos who came up with the goods, heading in Silva’s corner minutes into the second half.

The goal seemed to unburden Spain, and Ramos, who was getting forward with regularity, nearly struck again when a rasping drive from him flew the wrong side of the post.

The hosts were then up in arms when the referee waved play on after Fabregas was sent tumbling by Ring in the area, moments before Pukki shot wide on a rare Finland sighting in the opposition half.

But Spain were unable to seriously threaten again as the match entered its closing stages, and were pegged back with 11 minutes remaining when Pukki stole in between Ramos and Pique to turn home from close range.

The hosts had chances to win it late on, but Alvaro Negredo twice failed to convert, sending a header wide before he was denied by Manepaa, as Finland became only the second team in seven years to avoid defeat away to the world and European champions.

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