Spain survived a scare in Skopje tonight, fighting back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to record a narrow friendly victory over FYR Macedonia. The European champions, whose 35-match unbeaten streak was ended by a shock defeat by USA at the recent FIFA Confederations Cup, looked set to suffer another surprise loss when Goran Pandev put the hosts two goals up inside 32 minutes.
However, Vicente del Bosque's side showed why they are among the favourites to win the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ by launching an admirable fightback at the start of the second half, netting three times in just five minutes to claim the win. Fernando Torres headed home the first, before Gerard Pique and Albert Riera added two more in quick succession to earn La Roja their 15th win in 16 matches since Del Bosque took over from Luis Aragones after UEFA EURO 2008.
Both teams observed a minute's applause before the match in memory of Espanyol captain Daniel Jarque, while the Spain team wore shirts bearing Jarque's number for the national anthems prior to the game. Jarque died at the age of 26 on Saturday after his heart stopped following a training session in Coverciano, Italy, where the Barcelona-based club were on a pre-season camp.
Once the match, which formed part of the Football Federation of Macedonia's centenary celebrations, started it was the home side who settled much the quicker, and they were soon 2-0 up after Pandev had twice broken the visitors' offside trap.
Pandev's opening goal came in the eighth minute, after he found himself in acres of space following Ilco Naumoski's through ball. The Lazio forward doubled his account in the 32nd minute, when he again got in behind the Spain defence, cut back inside Carles Puyol on to his favoured left foot, and drilled a low shot past Jose Reina.
In between those two efforts, Aco Stojkov had also been denied by a fine block by Reina at his near post as Spain's defence struggled badly early on. Spain finally began to find their feet towards the end of the first half and David Villa almost pulled a goal back when his 20-yard effort came back off the post with Jane Nikoloski beaten.
Spain needed just ten minutes of the second half to turn the game on its head, though. Prolific Liverpool striker Torres started the fightback in the 50th minute when he glanced home Xavi's cross, and then just three minutes later Pique levelled the scores with his second strike for his country.
Cesc Fabregas, one of three half-time replacements along with Sergio Busquets and Riera, was unfortunate to see his 25-yard strike crash against the foot of the post, but the rebound fell kindly for the unmarked Pique, who tapped into an empty net.
It was a breathtaking start to the second period for Spain, and it was to get even better for the visitors 60 seconds later when Riera slammed home a stunning left-footed drive off the underside of the crossbar from the left-hand side of the area.
Spain continued to push forward and Pique and Dani Guiza both went close to increasing their side's lead, but FYR Macedonia almost caused a late setback for the visitors when Darko Tasevski's brilliant 25-yard free-kick struck the crossbar.