Spain did not falter with the place for the FIFA World Cup 2022 and will make its 12th straight appearance in the tournament in Qatar. (More football news)
Substitute Álvaro Morata scored late when “La Roja” beat Sweden 1-0 on Sunday to win Group B and earn the automatic place for the 2022 World Cup, leaving Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s team ahead of the playoffs.
The 40-year-old Ibrahimovic came off the bench in the 74th minute but could not kick the guests to victory, which was the only result for Sweden to avoid the playoffs next year.
Morata made the winner of the tense match in Sevilla from inside the area on the 86th after Dani Olmo hit the post from a long distance.
“We worked hard to get to this World Cup,” said Morata, who was criticized by fans when Spain played in Sevilla during the European Championships earlier this year. “We have been through some difficult times together but the World Cup is where we deserve to be.”
Spain finished with 19 points, four more than Sweden, who are drawn against the other nine runners-up and two group winners from the UEFA Nations League. The playoffs will be played in March with the 12 nations playing in three four-team brackets. The seeded teams will have a home match in the bracket semi-final.
Sweden came after a surprising 0-2 loss against already eliminated Georgia and ended up after Spain in the group position.
The Swedes reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup 2018 but did not qualify for the tournament in 2014 and 2010.
Spain has qualified for all world championships since 1978 and won its only global title in 2010 in South Africa. They were knocked out by host Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup.
Backed by an audience of more than 50,000 at La Cartuja Stadium, Spain controlled ball possession but struggled to create many significant point changes. Alexander Isak threatened Sweden the most, wasting one of the team’s best chances in the second half with a shot that went over the crossbar.
“We had our chances but we knew it would be difficult to play against Spain here,” said Isak. “We lived until the last minutes.”
Sweden beat Spain 2-1 in September in their first qualifying match but the team had a 0-0 draw in Sevilla in the group stage of the European Championship 2020.
In Athens, already knocked out Greece and Kosovo drew 1-1 in the second group stage match.