Sports Desk, Nov. 14, (EFE).- Spain qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Sunday, battling Sweden to a 1-0 result at La Cartuja stadium in Sevilla, ending the qualifying rounds in first place in Group B and forcing the Swedes to fight for second in a playoff match.
Luis Enrique’s men needed at least a draw to secure their ticket to the World Cup by the direct route, while Jan Andersson’s team had to have a victory, and although the game remained scoreless for the bulk of play, albeit with Spain dominating play throughout much of a match during which scoring opportunities were scanty, finally in the 86th minute it was Alvaro Morata that sealed the win for the Spaniards.
Meanwhile, Germany drubbed Armenia 4-1 on the road, grabbing its own Group J berth at the World Cup in a match it controlled right from the start, despite missing a number of players.
Germany scored its first goal on a shot by Havertz in the 15th minute, but had to wait half an hour for its second tally, when Iklay Gundogan converted on a penalty kick.
The Germans’ third goal came in the 50th minute, when Gundogan once again fired a shot-on-goal from outside the area that went past the Armenian goaltender.
Armenia’s Mhkitaryan scored for the home team in the 59th minute, converting on a penalty by Neuhaus and sparking a tremendous round of celebration among the local fans, but the jubilation didn’t last long as Hoffman scored Germany’s fourth goal in the 69th minute and then both teams coasted toward the foregone conclusion and the final whistle.
Fortune favored the Croatians over Russia in Group H as the latter, playing ultra-defensively at Poljud stadium in Split, handed a 1-0 win to its local rivals on an own-goal just 10 minutes before the end of regulation time.
Playing under intense rain that fell during the entire match, Croatia needed a win but had little hope of achieving it against the powerful Russian squad, although they found themselves with several scoring chances that came to nought in the first half.
After the break, the Russians – defending cautiously and in an organized manner – managed to keep the Croatians, who played aggressively, away from their net, and it looked more like water polo than soccer with much of the pitch inches deep in rainfall.
Croatia made several substitutions in the last quarter hour of play, but it did little good as the Russians then began to move out of their end of the pitch for the first time during the match.
The Croatians were getting more and more desperate but finally in the 81st minute Russian defender Fyodor Kudriashov knocked in an own-goal that found the twine just out of reach of the stretching goaltender, Safonov.
Now, Croatia finds itself first in the group with 23 points, to Russia’s 22, but the latter will have to seek a berth in Qatar during the playoffs in March.
In Lisbon, despite needing only a draw and going ahead just two minutes into play, Portugal fell 2-1 to Serbia in Group A play, thus having to fight for a berth in the World Cup during the playoffs next year while the Serbs will go directly to the 2022 global soccer tourney in Qatar.
Renato Sanches scored Portugal’s initial goal, but the team otherwise had a rather lackluster night and play was dominated by the Serbs, who tied things up on a minute 33 goal by Tadic and then won the match on a tally by Mitrovic in the 89th minute.