Spain have World Cup qualification in their own hands going into the final round of games after winning 1-0 in Greece.
Luis Enrique’s side took advantage of a surprise slip from previous Group B leaders Sweden, who lost 2-0 in Georgia earlier on Thursday, to leapfrog them into first place.
Spain had never lost away to Greece in four previous meetings, and a first-half penalty from Pablo Sarabia increased that record to four wins and one draw.
They will book their place at Qatar 2022 if they can avoid defeat to Sweden on Sunday in Seville.
The visitors unsurprisingly dominated possession but created little early on against a well-organised Greece.
The home side thought they had taken the lead on 21 minutes as Giorgos Masouras finished well from a Thanasis Androutsos throughball, but the Olympiakos forward was offside.
Just three minutes later, Spain were awarded a penalty after Inigo Martinez was felled in the box by Dimitris Giannoulis following a corner, and Sarabia sent Odisseas Vlachodimos the wrong way to put La Roja ahead.
The hosts needed a win to keep alive any hopes of qualification themselves and started to gamble a little more towards the end of the game, but Spain remained relatively calm as they eased to a vital win in Athens.
1 – Pablo Sarabia scored the first penalty goal for #Spain in the #WorldCupQualifiers since October 10th 2009 against Armenia (Juan Mata). Spain won that game 1-2 on the road. Chance. pic.twitter.com/8gwjxp2kZ3
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 11, 2021
What does it mean? Spain strike it lucky
Luis Enrique’s team will not have quite believed their luck when they heard of Sweden’s defeat in Georgia, who are ranked 93rd in the world by FIFA.
Spain have trailed Sweden in Group B since the first round of games, but now go into their crucial encounter on Sunday one point ahead.
They will just have to hope that Zlatan Ibrahimovic does not have one more big show in him on the international stage.
Luis Enrique’s men finally spot on
Spain’s inability to score penalties at Euro 2020 started to become a running joke, despite winning a shootout against Switzerland in the quarter-finals.
Sarabia’s successful spot-kick here was the first Spain have scored outside of shootouts since September 2020, having missed the previous five.
It was also the first penalty they have scored in a World Cup qualifier since October 2009 when Juan Mata dispatched one in a 2-1 win in Armenia.
Greece lacking a threat
John van ‘t Schip’s team needed a win to have any hope of qualifying for next year’s World Cup but never really looked like getting it here, failing to add to the seven goals they have managed in qualifying.
The plan was clearly to counter-attack on the rare occasions they saw the ball, but they struggled to do so for the vast majority of the game, managing just three shots.
They could barely get near their opponents in the first half, having just 21 per cent of possession, which climbed to only 27 per cent by full-time.
Greece host Kosovo and Spain welcome Sweden in the final round of European World Cup qualifiers in Group B on Sunday.
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