Spain moved to within a point of sealing their place at next year's FIFA World Cup™ with an unconvincing 2-1 win over Belarus in Mallorca on Friday. Second-half goals from Xavi and Alvaro Negredo put Vicente del Bosque's men in charge.
However they were far from their free-flowing best and Belarus made it an uncomfortable finish for the hosts when Sergei Kornilenko swept home a Sergei Krivets pass a minute from time. Victory means Spain lead France by three points at the top of European Group I with the World Cup hoders set to face Georgia in Albacete in their final qualifier on Tuesday.
Del Bosque had sprung a surprise with his team selection as Michu was handed his debut up front, whilst Victor Valdes was selected in goal ahead of Iker Casillas. However, the Swansea City man failed to make the most of his opportunity as he provided little to a largely ineffective first-half display by the home side.
A heavy touch from Michu allowed Sergei Balanovich to intercept before the debutant could get a shot off on goal and he then headed well off target from Nacho Monreal's cross. It took the hosts 37 minutes to register their first shot on target and Aleksandr Gutor comfortably parried David Silva's effort to safety.
All change for Spain
Del Bosque acted at half-time by bringing on Andres Iniesta for Monreal and Negredo was also introduced at the expense of Michu ten minutes later. The opener did finally arrive on the hour mark as Xavi pounced on a loose ball at the edge of the area to volley home his 12th international goal.
Spain continued to control the game, but didn't have another effort on goal until they sealed the game with their best move of the match 12 minutes from time. Pedro's clever flick freed Sergio Ramos down the right and his pinpoint cross was headed home by Negredo from close range for his third goal in his last four internationals.
Belarus hadn't forced Valdes into action all evening, but were handed a consolation a minute from time when Kornilenko produced a composed finish after being played clean through on goal.