Thursday had started for Spain with the real possibility of being relegated to the playoffs to be at the next World Cup. But Luis Enrique’s men raised the cards and found two aces that radically turned things around. The first was the surprising defeat of Sweden, so far leaders of Group B, in Georgia. The second, the Spanish victory in Greece. He didn’t fail the Red , who had been served on a plate to take an almost definitive step towards Qatar, even if he had to suffer a lot in an admittedly gray second half. Of course, on Sunday he will receive Sweden at La Cartuja, eternal condemnation, and with a tie he will pack his bags for the desert. He hasn’t missed a World Cup since 1974 and he doesn’t want to break that streak.
Luis Enrique doesn’t like excuses, whose injuries have put him in a bind for the last two qualifying games. The Asturian teams are always recognizable, beyond the names. It also happened in Athens, and the eleven of Spain suffered a good shock. Busquets, for example, started on the bench, we do not know if it was due to a technical decision or thinking a little about the duel against Sweden. The one who broke in was De Tomás, becoming the 28th player to debut under Luis Enrique. The definition of generational change embodied by the Asturian would be summed up well in this figure.
Van’t Schip’s Greece were a little shy despite the fact that a victory served to continue their dreams of being in Qatar. It is not possible. He hid behind a ploy with five behind and handed the ball to Spain, who showed up in circulation. That yes, until he knew how to settle in an Olympic half-vacuum in Athens, the Hellenic team threatened to sour the night on the rare occasions when he was able to make two passes in a row. So much so that Massouras even beat Unai Simón with a hard shot after a great run, but the linesman ended up raising the flag late, the result of a rule that doesn’t include cardiology.
‘La Roja’ shone in the first half despite only being able to score after a controversial penalty scored by Sarabia
The ball flew into the feet of the Spanish footballers, especially when it passed in the middle of the field with Gavi and Rodri very active. The central defenders, both left-footed, helped in this task, and it was from the feet of Íñigo Martínez that the first big chance of the Red which De Tomás badly missed.
But the joy didn’t take long to reach the Spanish team and it did after a somewhat messy game that ended with Íñigo Martínez on the ground in the Greek area. Giannoulis had him down, or so interpreted Marciniak, who also turned a deaf ear to Laporte’s clear hands that prompted the withdrawal. VAR didn’t rectify the Pole and Sarabia didn’t miss the gift to open the scoring and show the way for Qatar.
Nothing changed on the green after the goal, with an insulting dominating Spain, openly turned to the left, with a superb Gayà. Morata skillfully dribbled past two rivals but his shot bounced off Vlachodimos’ shoulder, nullifying the second and what appeared to be the sentence.
The game slowed down beautifully after the break. The Greeks started scratching openly and the worst was taken by Gavi, who found himself on the bench early after being slapped by Bouchalakis in true Rocky style. The scenario did not favor Spain at all, who in a few set pieces suffered the unspeakable and saw their biorhythms altered despite the Greeks’ ineffective attack.
Play slowed in the second half although Spain only suffered from set pieces
But cards on the table, the game did not escape the Red who was able to overcome a new situation of maximum pressure despite the losses and pave the way for Qatar.
0 – Greece: Vlachodimos; Androutsos, Tzavellas, Goutas, Tsimikas, Giannoulis (Limnios, d.67); Siopis, Bouchalakis (Pelkas, d.78), Mantalos; Pavlidis (Douvikas, m.46) and Giorgos Masouras (Tzolis, m.46).
1 – Spain: Unai Simon; Carvajal, Íñigo Martínez (Azpilicueta, m.89), Laporte, Gayá; Rodri, Gavi (Busquets, m.65), Koke; Sarabia (Dani Olmo, m.57), Morata (Fornals, m.65) and De Tomás (Rodrigo, m.57).
Goals: 0-1, m.26: Sarabia from the penalty spot.
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland). He reprimanded Siopis (33), Tsimikas (54), Goutas (59) and Tzavellas (93) for Greece; and Sarabia (48) and Carvajal (79) for Spain.
Incidents: match corresponding to the penultimate day of the qualifying phase for the 2022 World Cup, played at the Olympic Stadium in Athens in front of 21,000 spectators.