ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Spain took a big step towards securing an automatic place in next year’s World Cup in Qatar by defeating Greece 1-0 on Thursday after Sweden stumbled against Georgia.
Pablo Sarabia converted a penalty kick in the first half to lift Spain past the Swedes at the top of Group B.
Spain will host Sweden in their last qualifier on Sunday with a one-point advantage and need a draw to secure first place and the automatic berth.
“We will not make the mistake of playing for a draw,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique. “Sweden is a complicated rival. We know them well. “
Sweden, which had already secured at least a second place, lost 2-0 in Georgia.
“Tonight’s match was crucial,” said Spanish midfielder Koke Resurrección. “Georgia did us a favor but we were focused on our match. It is our responsibility to be part of the World Cup.”
Only the group winners qualify automatically, while second places must go through to a play-off with the other runners-up and two group winners from the UEFA Nations League.
Greece needed a victory to keep their chances of finishing among the top two.
Sarabia scored from the penalty spot in the 26th minute after a video review confirmed a foul on defender Iñigo Martínez inside the area.
Greece got a goal by Giorgos Masouras failed for offside just minutes before penalty.
Spain has qualified for every World Cup since 1978, winning its only title in 2010 in South Africa. It was knocked out by host Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup.
Sweden’s chances of securing first place were hit with the surprising loss to already knocked out Georgia.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia scored two goals in the second half to give Georgia its second victory.
Sweden had the most chances throughout the match, where Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexander Isak wasted the best before Kvaratskhelia gave the hosts the victory with goals in the 61st and 77th minutes.
Georgia is fourth in the group with seven points in eight games and does not have a chance to finish among the top two. Its only second victory was in last place Kosovo.
Sweden’s only other loss was in Greece.
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