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INTERNATIONAL SOCCER

Soldado’s late strike earns stuttering Spain three "very important points”

Del Bosque’s team marches on after World Cup campaign almost got off to a disappointing start

Spain's Roberto Salgado (l) in action during 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Georgia in Tbilisi.
Spain's Roberto Salgado (l) in action during 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Georgia in Tbilisi.VANO SHLAMOV (AFP)

Valencia’s Roberto Soldado got reigning world champion Spain off to a winning start as they embarked on their defense of soccer’s World Cup at Georgia’s Boris Paichadze National Stadium on Tuesday night.

In a match seemingly destined for a 0-0 tie, where the Euro 2012 winner dominated possession yet created few clear-cut chances against the Eastern European minnows, it was left to the former Real Madrid man Soldado, to sweep the ball home from close range after finding himself free in the box for the first time in the 86th minute. Up until that point Georgia had defended very compactly and stubbornly, allowing La Roja to keep the ball, inviting pressure that, in particular the impressive Georgian goalkeeper Giorgi Loria was able to handle until he had to go off injured after a nasty collision with one of his own defenders.

After the final whistle, Spain’s goalscorer outlined the difficulties faced by his team, saying “it was a hard-fought victory. Georgia gave us the ball and put 11 men behind it in their area. We didn’t have many goal-scoring opportunities, and therefore it was essential to take one of the few we had, and, fortunately, in the end, we got there.”

“They closed up very well. We knew that the match was going to was going to be like this and we didn’t really turn up,” said coach Vicente del Bosque. “They are three very, very important points. If we’d have drawn, we’d have taken a step back” he added, the seriousness in his voice highlighting just how imperative it was to leave Tbilisi victorious, given that qualification rivals France - which has played a game more than Spain – comfortably beat Belarus in Paris to take its place at the top of Group I.

Del Bosque, who took charge of his 64th match as national team head coach -- in doing so surpassed Miguel Muñoz’s tally of 63 – and is now just four matches away from equaling Laszlo Kubala’s record as longest-serving manager in Spain’s history. He will next take his squad to Minsk, to face a Belarus team that sits bottom of the group having lost both of its games so far.

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