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.
Excluding shootouts, Pablo Sarabia has converted the first penalty for #Spain 🇪🇸 since September 2020 and missing the previous five (2 by S. Ramos vs Switzerland, A. Ruiz vs Lithuania, Gerard vs Poland and Morata vs Slovakia), ending their worst run in the 21st century. Success. pic.twitter.com/GKBI0wXicp
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 11, 2021
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 had already discussed that if there was a penalty, I’d take it,” Sarabia said post-match in comments carried by Marca. “[Alvaro] Morata didn’t ask me to take it. It had been discussed.
🏁 ¡¡FINAL FINAL FINAAAAL EN ATENAAAAS!!
🔝 Con esta victoria, ¡España es PRIMERA de su grupo en el camino a #Catar2022!
🇬🇷 🆚 🇪🇸 | 0-1 | 90+5’
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) November 11, 2021
“I didn’t think about [what was riding on the penalty]. It’s a way of scoring a goal. It’s important. Pressure is something normal for an elite footballer. I might have been one of the most important penalties I’ll ever take, but I was only thinking about scoring it.
“The victory is important, we’ve already seen that throughout the phase it’s difficult to win on the road. Sweden losing helped us, but it was very important to win all three points.
“We were going to go out to [beat Sweden on Sunday] anyway. It’s true they’ve given us a hand, but we’re going out with the mentality of winning in front of our fans. We have a clear objective, which is to win all three points and celebrate that we’re in the World Cup.”