Koke: “For us, it’s a responsibility to be at the World Cup”

Pablo Sarabia’s first-half penalty proved enough to ensure La Roja took all three points against Greece in Athens on Thursday night. Luis Enrique’s side won 1-0 to end the day top of Group B of World Cup Qualifying, leapfrogging Sweden.

Spain will now face Sweden on Sunday night at La Cartuja in Sevilla, in a winner-takes-all fixture. What’s changed following tonight’s results, however, is that Spain only need to draw to top the group and secure automatic qualification for Qatar 2022. Sweden lost 2-0 to Georgia earlier in the evening.

As for the game itself, it was Greece who actually had the ball in the net first. Giorgos Masouras thought he’d fired his country into a 21st-minute lead after coolly beating Unai Simon, only for the linesman to raise his flag and rule it offside.

The tie’s decisive moment came just four minutes later. Inigo Martinez was fouled in the box and Sarabia, on loan at Sporting Lisbon from Paris Saint-Germain, stepped up to take it. He made no mistake, going left and sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.

Victory was nothing less than Spain deserved. They controlled 72.6% of the possession and recorded a passing accuracy of 92%, making sure to press high and win the ball back as quickly as possible whenever they lost it. Greece threatened on occasion, but ultimately played with a disappointing lack of ambition. For La Roja, thoughts have now turned to Sweden on Sunday.

“We knew we were depending on ourselves,” Koke said post-match in comments carried by Marca. “Today’s game was fundamental. Georgia have done us a favour but all we were thinking about was our own game.

“We had chances and we played great football in the first half. In the second they pushed that bit harder but we had it under control. We’re fair winners. I haven’t seen the penalty incident. If he called it, it was. Respect the referee’s decision.

“We prepared for the game well, and the technical staff analysed it well. They were an intense rival – hard-working – and we studied where to hurt them. For us, it’s a responsibility to be at the World Cup. Because of the level we have and the squad we have. Playing at the World Cup is the best.”

Tags Koke La Roja