Sweden down Spain to gain upper hand in World Cup qualifying

Stockholm (AFP) –


Viktor Claesson secured Sweden a 2-1 victory over Spain in World Cup qualifying on Thursday for a third win in three games and top spot in Group B.

Valencia midfielder Carlos Soler scored five minutes into his Spain debut, but Alexander Isak replied almost instantly for the hosts in Stockholm.

Claesson grabbed the winner just before the hour as Sweden kept their 100 percent record intact to move two points clear of Spain with a game in hand.

Defeat for Spain leaves Luis Enrique's side with little margin for error with only the group winners guaranteed a place at the 2022 finals in Qatar.

Spain return home to face Georgia on Sunday having made an unconvincing start to the group. They sit just a point clear of third-placed Kosovo after four matches.

The game started promisingly for Spain in front of some 16,000 fans in Sweden as Soler steered in Jordi Alba's cross on the half-volley.

But Soler was partly at fault for the Sweden's equaliser, his pass getting away from Sergio Busquets and allowing Isak to steer in superbly from the edge of the area.

The two nations drew 0-0 in the group stage of Euro 2020, but this was a far more open affair as Isak, Emil Forsberg and Dejan Kulusevski kept the Spain defence on alert.

Juventus winger Kulusevski, who missed the game against Spain at the Euro after testing positive for Covid-19, had a drive turned away by the foot of Unai Simon.

Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen kept the scores level when he bravely palmed away as Ferran Torres and Alvaro Morata both sought to apply a finishing touch from close range.

Spain's inability to clear a corner proved their undoing on 57 minutes.

After a deep cross, the ball was worked back to Claesson who sneaked a low shot between Simon and the near post, notching the decisive goal for the second time in three qualifiers.

Now in pole position in the group, Sweden play Uzbekistan in a friendly this weekend before resuming their qualifying campaign away to Greece on September 8.