OVIEDO, Spain, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Spain laboured to a 2-0 home win over Latvia to join Sweden at the top of Group F in their Euro 2008 qualifier on Wednesday.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi opened the scoring after 13
minutes but Spain struggled to add to the score against
technically inferior, though well-organised, opposition.
It was not until five minutes from time that striker
Fernando Torres pounced for the second to secure the result.
Spain moved above Northern Ireland into second place, level
on 19 points with Sweden who have a game in hand. Northern
Ireland, who earlier lost 2-1 to Iceland, have 16 points.
'It's clear we are better but we need to prove that on the
pitch,' midfielder David Albelda told Spanish state television.
'The difference on the pitch is not reflected in the scoreline.
We missed a lot of chances.'
Coach Luis Aragones had criticised his players for their
poor start in the 1-1 draw away to Iceland on Saturday, and they
responded with a bright opening in Oviedo.
They moved the ball around quickly and midfielder Xavi set
Torres through on goal after 11 minutes with a defence-splitting
pass but the striker's first touch was poor.
Soon after, Joaquin broke down the right flank beating his
man and crossed low for Xavi to score with a simple tap in.
Having got the early goal they had spoken of, however, Spain
failed to press home the advantage their dominance of possession
should have given them.
In the 36th minute, they were almost caught out when Maris
Verpakovskis just failed to get his foot to a cross, prompting
some whistles from the home fans.
Spain upped the tempo after the break and Joaquin,
substitute Andres Iniesta and Torres all went close.
The relentless pressure paid off at the end when Iniesta
crossed low for Miguel Angel Angulo to shoot. The keeper saved
but Torres was on hand to stick the loose ball home.