A late goal from substitute Fernando Llorente helped World champions Spain to the top of Group I of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying with a narrow 3-2 win over ten-man Scotland, who briefly threatened an upset in their match at Hampden Park.
A David Villa penalty put Spain ahead on the stroke of half-time and Andres Iniesta doubled their lead ten minutes into the second-half. A Steven Naismith diving header three minutes later gave Scotland hope before Gerard Pique turned James Morrison's cross into his own net to haul them level. However, substitute Fernando Llorente restored Spain's lead in the 79th minute, three minutes after coming on, to restore their lead before Steven Whittaker was sent off for his second yellow in the 90th minute.
Scotland manager Craig Levein said his side showed real character to stage a comeback. "I felt that the players did everything I asked of them and did everything they possibly could to win the game," he said. "I think every single one of them is a hero tonight for their efforts."
Visiting coach Vicente Del Bosque praised the character and fighting spirit of the Scottish side. "They fought right to the bitter end of the game," the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ winning coach said. "We managed to convert our chances but certainly I think the comeback was due to the hard work and good play from the Scots."
Scotland made three changes to the side that lost to the Czech Republic with Sunderland defender Phil Bardsley winning his first cap due to Alan Hutton's absence through injury. The much criticised 4-6-0 formation deployed in Prague was dropped as Kenny Miller was restored up front and the Rangers man had the home fans on their feet in the first minute as his cross from the right was desperately cleared by Barcelona's Pique.
The world champions enjoyed the majority of possession but didn't create a chance until the 13th minute. Xavi Alonso cut the Scottish defence open with a quick through ball and Villa took a touch before dispatching a shot just over Allan McGregor's bar.
Spain's superb one touch football was causing Scotland problems and Villa should have done better when he rose unchallenged to met David Silva's cross but he sent his header straight to McGregor. Silva had a chance himself a minute later when Santiago Cazorla sent him clear but his low drive was saved by the feet of the out-rushing keeper.
However it was Scotland who came closest to opening the scoring in the 17th minute when Darren Fletcher's cut-back from the by-line was met 12 yards out by Morrison but his fierce shot was blocked by Joan Capdevila before the danger was cleared. It was only a temporary respite as Sergio Ramos fired over before McGregor pulled off a wonderful save to deny Villa, who fired a shot on the turn from five yards out.
Miller should have done better when sent racing clear down the left in the 43rd minute but his pass to Graham Dorrans was intercepted and a minute later Scotland were behind. Alonso picked out Ramos at the far post and the Real Madrid defender's volley smashed into the raised arm of Whittaker from point-blank range but Massimo Busacca had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Villa duly dispatched the spot-kick. Iniesta, who scored the winner in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final, doubled their lead in the 55th minute as he stroked the ball past McGregor from ten.
However, Naismith reduced the deficit just three minutes later when he met Miller's cross with a diving header to knock it past Iker Casillas from five yards out. Hampden then erupted eight minutes later when Pique knocked Morrison's low cross into his own net to haul Scotland level.
Spain brought on Llorente, who netted a double in Friday's 3-1 over Lithuania, in the 76th minute and he was unmarked in the box to slam home Capdevila's cross from close range three minutes later. Whittaker, who was booked for his hand-ball at the penalty, picked up his second yellow in the 90th minute for a late tackle on Ramos to compound Scotland's misery.