World Cup qualifiers: Late strike spares Spanish blushes

Tbilisi (Georgia): Spain`s journey to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil got off to a stuttering start, after a narrow 1-0 win against Georgia in their opening qualifying match in Group I at the Boris Paichadze National Stadium.

The defending world and European champions kept the hosts pinned back in their own half for the vast majority of the contest, but struggled to find a way through their defensive ranks as chances remained at a premium.

Georgia defended admirably throughout, but their resistance was broken four minutes from the end by Roberto Soldado, who swept home from close range to give Spain a win they barely deserved.

The Valencia man started as the lone striker as Fernando Torres, who captained the team to a 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in his 100th cap on Friday, was dropped to the bench.

As expected, Spain wasted little time in snatching control of possession, but were made to work hard to find an opening by a Georgia team who had no interest in pressing forward.

Chances were few and far between for the European champions, with a saved Sergio Ramos header from a corner about the best they could muster in a tepid opening 20 minutes.

Spain only seemed to find space once outside the penalty area, though David Silva almost took advantage of that development with a stinging drive that cannoned off the inside of the post, with Giorgi Loria completely beaten.

It was difficult to tell whether Georgia’s sheer numbers at the back proved effective in throwing Spain off their game, or if the visitors’ lethargy was simply down to a lack of urgency in the attacking third.

The first period seemed destined to finish scoreless, though a late flourish from Del Bosque’s men nearly put paid to such inevitability in the dying minutes of the half.

Xavi was at the heart of things, first taking aim from 25 yards out and forcing Loria to tip over at full stretch, before playing in Soldado on goal, with Loria again alert to make the save.

Georgia nearly stunned the European champions early in the second half, who failed to properly defend a rare break forward, which saw Aleksander Amisulashvili strike the base of the post from inside the box.

It was an aberration, no doubt, but it did not lessen the defensive diligence of the hosts in the slightest, as the pattern from the first half repeated itself.

Spain remained camped around the penalty area, but laboured to find an opening, as they were faced by wave after wave of white shirts determined to hold the score.

However, the home side were handed a blow in the 73rd minute when Loria was forced off after colliding with his own player, with reserve keeper Roin Kvaskhvadze coming on in his place.

And their hearts were broken completely in two with four minutes remaining, after lax defending on a cross allowed Soldado enough time to slice home from inside the area.

Georgia attempted to pick themselves up, and even threatened to score with one of the last kicks of the game, but Ramos made a desperate last-ditch block as Spain held on for the win.

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