Spain coach Vicente del Bosque praised his side after seeing them come out on top in what he admits was a "difficult" match against Armenia today.
The European champions made it nine wins out of nine in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying Group Five by recording a 2-1 win over Armenia in Yerevan, with Juan Mata netting the winner from the penalty spot after Robert Arzumanyan had cancelled out Cesc Fabregas' first-half opener for the visitors.
It was not the most comfortable of victories for Spain and Del Bosque felt there was room for improvement from his players, but overall he was pleased with the performance they put in.
"It was a difficult game, because they (Armenia) kept things very tight and did not leave us much space. We lacked a little with our final ball, but we also had moments of good play with a lot of patience," said Del Bosque. "The attitude of the players was perfect. Some of them were on cards and might have been forced out of Wednesday's match in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but they all always wanted to play. You have to praise them for that."
Eight of Del Bosque's squad for their final two qualifiers were within a booking of a one-match ban, and of those Carles Puyol, Xavi and Fabregas all started today's game. Puyol picked up a yellow card and he will now miss the match with Bosnia-Herzegovina. It may have been that Puyol would have been rested anyway with Del Bosque revealing yesterday that he would try to give as many of his squad some playing time as possible during the matches against Armenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
That does not mean Spain will be any weaker for Wednesday's clash though, when they try to complete a 100 per cent record in qualifying, as the likes of captain Iker Casillas, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Alonso and Gerard Pique could all come in having started today's game on the bench. Matchwinner Mata said: "There is a lot of healthy competition, which makes everyone want to do well. We want to win all our games and make it 10 out of 10."
Mata's goal followed on from his late strike in Spain's previous match against Estonia, but the Valencia youngster knows he cannot rest on his laurels. "I've had the fortune to score in two successive games but I have to continue improving," he added.
Mata was not the only player wearing a smile at the end of the game either, with Sevilla striker Alvaro Negredo thrilled at making his debut for his country after appearing as a second-half replacement for Fernando Torres. "I'm very happy at having made my debut. It is the happiest day of my life. I'll never forget it," he said. "It wasn't possible to score, but in any case the most important thing is that the team won. Now we have to continue going forward."