Sports Desk, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- Spain, the 2010 World Cup winners, suffered an unexpected setback Thursday as they took their first step on the road to qualifying for the 2022 tournament, managing only a 1-1 draw with visiting Greece.
It was a different story for La Roja rivals England, Germany and Italy, who won comfortably.
The Three Lions, who finished fourth in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, crushed San Marino 5-0, while Germany rolled 3-0 over Iceland and Italy topped Northern Ireland 2-0.
With the exception of the injured Pau Torres and Sergi Roberto, the Spanish squad that hosted the Greeks in Granada was identical to the one that embarrassed Germany 6-0 last November in the Nations League.
But the level of play was nowhere near that of four months ago, as La Roja, despite their having more than 80 percent possession, struggled to break through against a Greece side determined to keep a clean sheet.
Alvaro Morata converted Spain’s one solid chance of the first half to grab the lead for the hosts in the 33rd minute and a goal looked likely to be enough until barely 10 minutes into the second half, when Greece won a penalty on their only serious attack of the contest.
Over the protests of the Spanish side, the referee pointed to the spot after Iñigo Martinez’s encounter in the box with Giorgos Masouras.
Anastasios Bakasetas beat Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon to make it 1-1 and the Greeks hung on to take the point.
Spain are 2 points behind Group B leaders Sweden, who prevailed 1-0 against Georgia on Viktor Claesson’s goal in the 35th minute.
The contest marked Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to international play after a five-year absence from the Swedish squad. The AC Milan striker was instrumental in setting up the goal.
Germany, playing their first match since coach Joachim Löw announced he will be leaving after the upcoming European Championships, made quick work of Iceland.
Leon Goretzka put Die Mannschaft ahead in the 2nd minute and Kai Havertz doubled the advantage five minutes later. Joshua Kimmich assisted on both goals.
Ilkay Gündogan added a third in the 56th minute to lift Germany to the top of Group J. While level on points with Romania and Armenia, the Germans have a better goal difference.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin had a brace for England in their rout of San Marino, ranked worst in the world by FIFA.
Three Lions coach Gareth Southgate treated the matchup as an ideal setting for the international debuts of James Ward-Prowse and Ollie Watkins, who contributed a goal apiece.
Raheem Sterling also scored for had England, who had 85 percent possession.
Southgate’s men lead Group I on better goal difference than Albania, who beat Andorra 0-1 on Thursday.
Poland are third after a hard-fought 3-3 draw with Hungary, who led 2-0 with 30 minutes left. The visitors pulled level with two goals in the space of two minutes, but Will Orban scored in the 78th minute to make it 3-2 and it took a goal by Robert Lewandowski with nine minutes left in regulation to salvage a point for the Poles.
Italy, who missed the World Cup in 2018 for the first time in 60 years, made a good start on their path to Qatar 2022 with a 2-0 victory against Northern Ireland.
Goals in the first half by Domenico Berardi and Ciro Immobile were enough to settle the contest in favor of the Azzurri, who share Group C lead with Switzerland, 1-3 winners Thursday over Bulgaria.