Roberto Soldado snatched a late
winner as Spain began the defence of their world title with a
laboured 1-0 victory away to an ultra-defensive Georgia in a
Group I qualifier on Tuesday.
Handed a rare start ahead of fellow strikers Fernando Torres
and David Villa, Soldado fluffed a chance in the first half but
made no mistake from close range when set up by substitute Cesc
Fabregas in the 86th minute.
It was cruel on the home side, who had held out stubbornly
against their illustrious visitors despite seeing little of the
ball and losing goalkeeper Giorgi Loria to injury with some 20
minutes from time.
They even came close to taking a shock 54th-minute lead when
Aleksander Amisulashvili's curling shot hit the post but Spain's
relentless attacking eventually wore them down.
"They closed ranks from the start and we tried everything
but we were missing a little bit of attacking dynamism," Spain
coach Vicente del Bosque told Spanish TV.
"These are three exceptionally important points because if
we had drawn today it would have been a significant setback," he
Spain's victory in their first Group I game extended the Iberian nation's winning streak in
European Championship and World Cup qualifiers to 23 matches.
They last failed to win in a 1-1 draw with Iceland in Reykjavik
in September 2007.
The latest crop of Spanish players were confronted by a
familiar problem in Tbilisi as tried to penetrate the massed
ranks of opposition defenders while dominating possession.
David Silva crashed a long-range effort off a post in the
28th minute before Xavi also tried his luck from distance and
forced a fine save from Loria.
Silva and Andres Iniesta nearly found a way through several
times with some slick interplay but Spain had to wait until the
45th minute before they finally created a clear chance.
However, when Xavi threaded the ball through to Soldado the
onrushing Loria blocked his low shot.
After the woodwork saved Spain early in the second half, Del
Bosque went in search of a winner by throwing on Pedro, Santi
Cazorla and Fabregas who conjured a low cross that Soldado
turned clinically past substitute keeper Roin Kvaskhvadze.
"It was a very hard-fought win," Soldado told Spanish TV.
"It was very tough to find space and create chances but at
the end we managed to get the breakthrough," added the striker
who took his tally to four on his sixth appearance for Spain.
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