FIFA World Cup Qualifying: Finland 0 Spain 2
By Football News
Goals from Jordi Alba and Alvaro Negredo edged Spain closer to qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a 2-0 win over Finland.
Alba opened the scoring with a cool first-half finish and substitute Negredo made sure of a valuable win for the reigning world champions five minutes from time.
Vicente del Bosque's men took full advantage of France's goalless draw with Georgia to go three points clear at the top of Group I on Friday with two games left to play.
Victory also means that Spain are unbeaten in European World Cup qualifying action since slipping to a 1-0 defeat against Denmark in March 1993.
Spain were much changed from their 2-0 friendly win over Ecuador last month as Del Bosque drafted David Villa, Koke, Mario Suarez, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas into his starting XI.
Iker Casillas also got the nod ahead of Victor Valdes despite starting the season on the bench for Real Madrid, granting him his 150th appearance for Spain.
Joona Toivio and Markus Halsti started for Finland, having both been named among the substitutes in the 2-0 win over Slovenia last time out.
Much had been made in the build-up to the game of the battle between Casillas and Valdes to start, but the Madrid man quickly repaid the faith shown in him by Del Bosque with a smart save with his legs to deny Finland a shock lead with just over 11 minutes gone.
Alexander Ring cut the ball back after good work down the Finland left and a Sergio Ramos defensive lunge sent it goalwards, but his club team-mate was down quickly to deal with it from close range.
Teemu Tainio's lofted ball sent Teemu Pukki clear of the Spanish defence and he crashed a volley over before the visitors went down the other end and broke the deadlock thanks to a composed Alba finish.
Fabregas picked up possession on the edge of the centre circle in the Finland half and his chipped pass found Barcelona team-mate Alba. The defender cut in from the left wing, held off a challenge from a defender and tucked it low past the onrushing Niki Maenpaa.
Villa came close to doubling Spain's lead three minutes before the half-hour mark, easily slipping his marker on the left wing before firing a rasping shot across the face of goal that flashed inches wide.
Spain dominated the remainder of the first half and showed their attacked intent within a minute of the restart as Pedro shot over after controlling Andres Iniesta's pass.
Del Bosque introduced Jesus Navas at the expense of Villa after 55 minutes as he looked to inject some pace into the side.
Finland then created and spurned two chances in as many minutes. Tainio first rippled the side-netting with a downward header after surging to meet Roman Eremenko's corner at the far post, but neither the man on the line or Casillas looked troubled.
Ring also failed to call Casillas into action as he screwed an effort high.
Negredo replaced Fabregas after 71 minutes and made an immediate impact, firing one effort narrowly wide before tapping in the visitors' second goal late on following Nevas' centre.