Spain profits from Sweden’s slip

Spain, Portugal and Croatia all put themselves one game away from securing World Cup qualification, while Sweden’s hopes took a heavy blow with a surprising loss.

Spain beat Greece 1-0 thanks to Pablo Sarabia’s penalty to overtake Sweden, which slipped to a 2-0 loss at already-eliminated Georgia. Spain hosts Sweden on Sunday in one of three winner-takes-all matches to decide World Cup places.

Another decisive fixture pits Portugal against Serbia after a frustrating 0-0 away draw for Cristiano Ronaldo’s team against Ireland. Croatia and Russia also face off for a spot in Qatar after each had a big win Thursday.

In Group A Portugal’s goalless draw in Dublin was less than impressive, but it was enough.

The point Portugal earned against Ireland saw it ease ahead of group rival Serbia in the standings on goal difference. That means a draw will be enough for Portugal to qualify automatically when it hosts Serbia in Lisbon on Sunday.

In Group B Sweden had its fate in its own hands in qualifying, and let it slip.

That gave Spain the chance to overtake Sweden and take the advantage ahead of the decisive game against the Swedes on Sunday.

Spain had to work hard in its 1-0 win over Greece, sealed with a penalty, but moved one point ahead of Sweden. Spain only has to avoid defeat against Sweden in Seville. The defeat to Spain ensured Greece can’t qualify.

In Group H Russia and Croatia each won big against overmatched opponents in games which were merely a warm-up for their qualifying decider. Croatia hosts Russia on Sunday and the winner will qualify for the World Cup automatically, with Russia going through if it’s a draw.

The results: Group A: Azerbaijan 1 (Salahli 82) lost to Luxembourg 3 (Rodrigues 67, 90+1, Thill 78); Republic of Ireland 0 drew with Portugal 0.

Group B: Georgia 2 (Kvaratskhelia 61, 77) bt Sweden 0; Greece 0 lost to Spain 1 (Sarabia 26-pen).

Group H: Russia 6 (Erokhin 4, 87, Smolov 55, Mostovoi 56, Sutormin 62, Zabolotny 82) bt Cyprus 0; Malta 1 (Brozovic 31-o.g.) lost to Croatia 7 (Perisic 6, Caleta Car 22, Pasalic 39, Modric 45+1, Majer 47, 64, Kramaric 53); Slovakia 2 (Duda 58-pen, Strelec 74) drew with Slovenia 2 (Zajc 18, Mevlja 62)

Group J: Armenia 0 lost to North Macedonia 5 (Trajkovski 22, Bardhi 36, 66-pen, 90-pen, Ristovski 79); Germany 9 (Gundogan 11-pen, Kaufman 20-og, Sane 22, 49, Reus 23, Muller 76, 86, Baku 80, Goeppel 89-og) bt Liechtenstein 0; Romania 0 drew with Iceland 0.

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