Spain poised to clinch World Cup berth; Portugal, Croatia face trickier path

Sports Desk, Nov 11 (EFE).- Spain eked out a 1-0 away win against Greece on Thursday to climb to first place in Group A in the European qualifiers for World Cup 2022, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal were held 0-0 by Ireland and remain level on points with Serbia ahead of a decisive showdown over the weekend.

Croatia, the 2018 runners-up, crushed Malta 7-1 on Thursday, but must defeat Russia in the final qualifier to assure themselves of a spot in Qatar.

The 2010 World Cup champions began their match in Athens knowing that Sweden had fallen 2-0 to Georgia and the Spaniards grasped at the chance to pull ahead of their main rival in the group.

Even without the sparkling form that carried them to last month’s UEFA Nations League final, La Roja dominated the contest and Pablo Sarabia’s goal from the penalty spot in the 26th minute after Iñigo Martinez was fouled in the area proved sufficient.

Spain improved to 17 points, 1 better than Sweden, meaning that a draw against the Swedes next Sunday in Seville will be enough to win the group.

In Dublin, the hosts were able to dictate the pace and the vastly more talented Portuguese side put only three shots on target. Ronaldo had the best chance for the visitors, but his powerful header in the 67th minute missed the mark.

Portugal moved level with Serbia on points at 17 and the Iberian squad lead Group A thanks to a positive goal difference of 12, compared with 8 for the Balkan team. The Serbs will visit Lisbon next Sunday for a game that will decide which side advances directly and which will face a playoff.

For Croatia, the stakes will be higher when they host Russia in Split over the weekend.

The Croats romped 7-1 over Malta to climb to 20 points, but Russia pummeled Cyprus 6-0 and lead Group with 22 points, so Luka Modric and his teammates have to win to avoid a playoff.

Germany, who punched their ticket for Qatar last month, thrashed Liechtenstein 9-1 on Thursday. Leroy Sane and Thomas Müller each had a brace for Die Mannschaft. EFE jv/dr

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