BADAJOZ, Spain (AP)Luis Enrique shook up his team and got the result he wanted as Spain beat Georgia 4-0 in World Cup qualifiers on Sunday.
The game against the modest rival had become an almost must-win affair for Spain after its disappointing loss at Sweden on Thursday that cost it first place in Europe’s Group B. Only the top team automatically qualifies for the tournament in Qatar in November 2022 with the group runners-up having to go through playoffs.
The victory in Badajoz left Spain with 10 points in the group. Sweden has nine, but also has two more games to play.
Upset by his team’s 2-1 loss in Stockholm, Luis Enrique made several changes to his starting 11.
Out went veterans Alvaro Morata, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, and Koke Resurreccion. In came Jose Gaya in defense, and Rodri Hernandez and Marcos Llorente in midfield. Pablo Sarabia took the place of injured Gerard Moreno in attack.
The biggest surprise was in the inclusion of 21-year-old Abel Ruiz, a Braga forward who made his debut for Spain in June in a game that youth players played while its top squad was quarantined due to a COVID-19 outbreak scare before the European Championship.
The moves paid off against the overmatched Georgia.
Gaya opened the scoring in the 14th minute before Llorente set up Carlos Soler and Ferran Torres to decide the game before halftime. Sarabia added a goal in the second half.
”Today we wanted to do things right after the last game we let our three points slip away,” Llorente said. ”It was important for us to get a convincing win, and in front of our fans.”
Gaya scored when a clearance fell to him outside the area. His shot took a deflection off Georgia’s Guram Kashia that left goalkeeper Giorgi Loria out of position to save.
Soler netted in the 25th when Llorente dribbled to the end-line on the right side and squared the ball into the area. Soler arrived from his midfield position unmarked and used his left foot to beat Loria.
Llorente again beat Georgia’s defense with his speed down the flank before passing back into the six-yard box for Torres to strike from an angle.
Sarabia scored following a counterattack in the 63rd after he exchanged passes with substitute Pablo Fornals.
Georgia almost pulled one back through substitute Georges Mikautadze, who forced Unai Simon to push his powerful shot onto the bar.
Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez made his debut for Spain as a late substitute. He had been used as a backup for several months by Luis Enrique but had yet to play with Simon well established as the top goalkeeper.
Both Gaya and Aymeric Laporte were substituted for apparent injuries, putting in doubt their availability for Wednesday’s match at Kosovo.
”It may have looked easy, but I can tell you it was not,” Luis Enrique said about the win. ”If you don’t press Georgia hard, they won’t give you the ball. We played a good game and overran them on the wings. We could have score more.”
A stoppage-time goal by Vedat Muriqi snatched Kosovo a 1-1 draw at home to Greece.
The Greeks took the lead in first-half injury time through Anastasios Douvikas. They were moments away from their first win in the group before Muriqi struck.
Muriqi, a Lazio forward, also scored in a 1-0 win over Georgia in Kosovo’s previous match.
Kosovo is third in Group B with four points. Greece has three points and Georgia one.
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