Spain disappointed in their opening 2014 World Cup qualification match, but a late Roberto Soldado goal was enough to defeat Georgia on Tuesday.
Vicente del Bosque opted for Soldado to lead the attack in favour of Fernando Torres and the recently returned David Villa. Otherwise, the starting XI at the Boris Paichadze Stadium in Tbilisi was as expected from the week’s training.
Meanwhile, opposition Coach Temuri Ketsbaia began with a defensive mentality, with the hosts setting up with a back four, two defensive midfielders and two defensively-minded wingers happy to sit back and allow La Roja to take possession from the off.
The Georgians were organised in the opening passages of play, restricting the world and double European champions to ball-play outside of the penalty area and only a Sergio Ramos header from Xavi Hernandez’ corner to show as an attempt on goal.
At the same time, Tornike Okriashvili proved a particular contributor to the hosts’ attempts to counter-attack.
Such was Georgia’s play, Spain were restricted to long-range efforts, with David Silva striking the post just before the half-hour mark and Xabi Alonso drawing a save from Giorgi Loria just before the break proving most notable.
However, right on 45, Spain found a way through, only for Soldado to see his low effort blocked by Loria. The Valencia man found himself free in the box, 10 yards out from goal. However, his miss saw that Georgia deservedly went in at the break level.
Georgia began the second half with a more progressive mentality and visibly had Spain disjointed, with Okriashvili again proving a nuisance on the break. The home side then went closest to breaking the deadlock through Aleksandr Amisulashvili’s curling effort inside the Spain penalty area, but it deflected away after striking the foot of the far post, with Iker Casillas beaten.
Del Bosque responded with some attacking substitutions, to restore the game’s possession balance back in La Seleccion’s favour, but they continued to struggle to find a way through, with their collective frustration at one point threatening to get the better of Ramos.
Spain continued to push Georgia’s defence deeper into their own area and ultimately it paid off with less than five minutes until the 90. Substitute Cesc Fabregas cut the ball into the area for Soldado to find space and to take his second chance of the night with a low side-footed effort from eight yards.
Silencing the crowd, it proved to be the difference between the two teams in their first every meeting, even if a late long ball from the Georgians caused brief panic in Spain’s penalty area.
Georgia 0-1 Spain
Scorers: Soldado 86 (S)
Georgia: Loria (Kvaskhvadze 73); Kashia, Khizanishvili, Amisulashvili, Kvirkvelia; Kankava, Daushvili; Targamadze (Dzalamidze 64), Okriashvili, Lobzhanidze; Mchedlidze (Sirbiladze 80)
Spain: Casillas, Arbeloa (Fabregas 80), Pique, Ramos, Alba, Busquets (Pedro 57), Iniesta, Alonso, Silva (Cazorla 64), Xavi, Soldado
Ref: Moen (NOR)