David Silva’s strike in first-half injury time gave Spain a slender but deserved 1-0 victory over Belarus in Euro 2016 qualifying on Sunday.
Nine changes from Thursday’s 2-1 friendly victory over Costa Rica began in goal, where Iker Casillas replaces David de Gea. At the back, Juanfran, Gerard Pique – on the back of being booed in Leon – and Jordi Alba all came in for Dani Carvajal, Marc Bartra and Juan Bernat, while Mikel San Jose and Koke made way for Sergio Busquets and Santi Cazorla.
Up top, David Silva and Pedro Rodriguez flanked Alvaro Morata, with none of Nolito, Paco Alcacer and the injured Aleix Vidal convincing the Coach of their ability to lead the line in Borisov.
La Liga fans surely remembered the name of Aleksandr Hleb in the Belarus XI. The midfielder joined Barcelona in time for the 2008-09 campaign but made just 19 League appearances before becoming something of a journeyman.
Spain dominated possession from the off, probed the hosts’ rearguard at will, and they were unlucky not to have been awarded at least one penalty as Silva and Morata were both upended in the box, only for the referee to ignore the appeals.
The Juventus striker and Cesc Fabregas were guilty of missing La Roja’s best shooting chances, the former peeling off his marker, before sending a finish just wide of the far post from a tight angle, while the Chelsea midfielder, unmarked in the D, could only side-foot towards Andrey Gorbunov.
Sergio Ramos then fluffed two free headers from corners, leaving Spain’s good work at risk of being undone by profligacy, but Silva popped up with the last kick of the first half to half-volley a corner into the roof of the net following an awful misjudgement from Gorbunov.
The restart saw a much-improved showing from Belarus, who could have turned the match on its head if Sergei Kornilenko took his one-on-one with Casillas and Maksim Bordachev got his bearings right after the ball fell to his feet from a corner.
Nonetheless, Spain eventually regained control of the match and ought to have added to their lead, only for Silva to squander a tap-in from point-blank range and sub Vitolo to have beaten his marker Aleksandr Martynovich on a couple of occasions.
Cazorla also saw a powerful drive just about kept out by Gorbunov, while Morata had an explosive effort of his own denied and another somehow parried away.
Pedro, meanwhile, was lucky to have not been shown a straight red card for an elbow into the face of Igor Shitov and was subsequently taken off in a generally-ineffectual display.
Belarus 0-1 Spain
Belarus: Gorbunov; Martynovich, Shitov, Bordachev, Filipenko, Hleb (Putsila 79), Volodko (Stasevich 81), Kislyak (Dragun 78), Nekhaychik, Maevski, Kornilenko
Spain: Casillas; Juanfran, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Busquets, Cazorla, Cesc (Isco 75); Silva (Bernat 85), Morata, Pedro (Vitolo 75)
Referee: Schorgenhofer [AUT]