Sweden fights back to beat Spain 2-1 in World Cup qualifying

National Sports

STOCKHOLM (AP)Sweden came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 and leapfrog the visitors for first place of their World Cup qualifying group on Thursday.

Carlos Soler scored five minutes into his debut for Spain to put the visitors in front, but Aleksander Isak leveled seconds later.

Viktor Claesson put Sweden ahead for good in the 57th. Only some desperate defending by Spain’s defenders denied Isak a chance to add another goal on the counterattack.

”We told ourselves that this is our home turf and we have to play for three points,” Isak said. ”Our defense was solid, as usual, and we played better in attack, creating chances. We deserved this win.”

When Spain and Sweden met in the group phase of the European Championship in June, neither could find the net in a scoreless stalemate.

This time, the two attacks both struck early in a vibrant showing by the Swedes at Friends Arena, thrilling the nearly 17,000 fans in the largest crowd since the pandemic for a Sweden game.

Sweden took control of Europe’s Group B with nine points from three games. Spain fell to second place with seven points from four games.

Only the group winners directly qualify for the World Cup. Second-place finishers face a playoff.

”The group is going to be much tougher now,” Spain captain Sergio Busquets said. ”We still have lots of games left, even if we don’t have our fate in our hands.”

Soler was the only new face to a Spain lineup which reached the semifinals of the Euros before falling to eventual champion Italy. The Valencia midfielder took the place left by Pedri Gonzalez, who was given two weeks rest by Barcelona and Spain.

The 24-year-old Soler immediately got involved when he joined in Spain’s first attack. Ferran Torres and Alvaro Morata drew the markings of Sweden’s center backs, allowing Jordi Alba to meet Soler’s run to the right post with a lobbed pass for him to stab home.

Sweden hit right back seconds later when a long ball forward was mishandled by Soler and Sergio Busquets. Isak, who plays for Spanish club Real Sociedad, ran onto the ball and slotted a right-footed shot into the corner of Unai Simon’s net.

Without Pedri and Dani Olmo in the squad to help control the ball, Spain had trouble with Sweden’s pressure. Simon got his foot on a low strike by Dejan Kulusevski in the 36th after Koke Resurreccion lost possession near the area.

A great move by Kulusevski led to Sweden’s winning goal. The Juventus winger appeared to be hemmed in by two defenders on the left touchline, when he spun past both and found Claesson unmarked in the box.

Spain coach Luis Enrique sent on Adama Traore, Marcos Llorente and Pablo Sarabia to spark his attack. Traore went close to equalizing when he dribbled into the area and forced goalkeeper Robin Olsen to make a save.

But Isak twice broke free on the counterattack and only last-gasp tackles by Eric Garcia and Aymeric Laporte stopped him from having great chances to finish Spain off.

”We lost too many individual matchups in defense and midfield and they generated many more counterattacks than in our recent matchups,” Luis Enrique said. ”This team, with Isak and Kulusevski up front, they have lots of talent. And we paid the price.”


Vedat Muriqi’s first-half goal gave Kosovo a 1-0 win at Georgia.

The first victory for Kosovo left it in third place in Group B with three points from three games. Greece has two points from two games. Georgia has one point from four games.

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