Spain will host Sweden on Sunday in a winner-take-all deal in Sevilla for a ticket to next year’s World Cup.
After seven matches, the two teams are separated by one point at the top of their qualifying group.
Spain only need a draw to finish in Group B and secure their 12th straight appearance at the football showpiece, while second place Sweden must win at La Cartuja Stadium to skip the hosts.
Only the group winners automatically qualify for the 2022 tournament in Qatar. The second place meets a playoff with the other nine runners-up and two group winners from the UEFA Nations League to decide the last three European places.
Sweden took over Spain twice in recent months. That kept Spain to a pointless draw at the same stadium in the European Championship group stage in June. Jan Andersson’s Sweden then beat Spain 2-1 in their first World Cup qualifier in September.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not in Sweden’s squad for either of these two matches. The 40-year-old star will be available on Sunday, although Andersson does not want to reveal whether Ibrahimovic will start.
“I actually have many good offensive players. Zlatan is one of them, as are (Aleksander) Isak, (Dejan) Kulusevski and (Kristoffer) Olsson,” says Andersson. “So no matter who plays tomorrow, we can also attack well against Spain.”
Spain’s coach Luis Enrique said that Ibrahimovic would make Sweden more dangerous in the long balls he can win, but that Sweden without him remained dangerous with his speed on the counterattack.
“We will be prepared to do what we can to keep (Ibrahimovic) in check, even if it is impossible to do always,” said Luis Enrique.
Spain have several injured players, including Manchester City winger Ferran Torres, its top scorer in the qualifiers with four goals in six games. Also unavailable are Pedri González, Marcos Llorente, Mikel Oyarzabal, Eric García and Gerard Moreno, all players who helped Spain reach the European Championship semi-finals.
Spain had caught up with the group behind Sweden since the loss in Stockholm. But Georgia’s shocked 2-0 victory over Sweden on Thursday combined with Spain’s 1-0 victory over Greece put Spain back on top before their decision.
Against Greece, Luis Enrique had Espanyol striker Raúl de Tomás make his debut in the starting eleven, but it fell to midfielder Pablo Sarabia to score the match’s only goal from a penalty kick.
Luis Enrique also left the holding midfielder and team captain Sergio Busquets on the bench until the last 25 minutes, apparently to reduce the risk of a warning that would have knocked Busquets out of the match against Sweden for an accumulation of yellow cards. The Barcelona veteran should be back in the starting eleven on Sunday.
Despite Spain’s latest stumbles against Sweden, Luis Enrique has no plans to deviate from his possession-based style.
“I think we are in a situation that we would have signed on at the beginning of the competition, to play in our arena with our fans and just need a draw,” said coach Luis Enrique. “But tomorrow will be difficult … You just have to look at our latest matches against Sweden to see how tough it is for us to score against them.”
More AP football: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports