Spain and Greece players play during the World Cup 2022 group B qualifying soccer match between Greece and Spain at the Olympic stadium in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Nov 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
ATHENS — Spain took a big step toward securing an automatic spot in next year’s World Cup in Qatar by defeating Greece 1-0 on Thursday after Sweden stumbled against Georgia.
Pablo Sarabia converted a penalty kick in the first half to lift Spain past the Swedes at the top of Group B.
Spain will host Sweden in their final qualifier on Sunday carrying a one-point advantage, needing a draw to secure first place and the automatic berth.
“We won’t make the mistake of playing for the draw,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said. “Sweden is a complicated rival. We know them well.”
Sweden, which had already secured at least a second-place finish, lost 2-0 at Georgia.
“Tonight’s match was crucial,” Spain midfielder Koke Resurrección said. “Georgia did us a favor but we were focused on our match. It’s a responsibility for us to be in the World Cup.”
Only the group winners automatically qualify, while the second-place finishers will have to go through a playoff with the other runners-up and two group winners from the UEFA Nations League.
Greece needed a victory to keep alive its chances of finishing in the top two.
Sarabia scored from the penalty spot in the 26th minute after video review confirmed a foul on defender Iñigo Martínez inside the area.
Greece had a goal by Giorgos Masouras disallowed for offside just a few minutes before the penalty.
Spain has qualified for every World Cup since 1978, winning its lone title in 2010 in South Africa. It was eliminated by host Russia in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.
Sweden’s chances of securing first place took a hit with the surprising loss to already eliminated Georgia.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia scored twice in the second half to give Georgia its second win.
Sweden had most of the chances throughout the match, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexander Isak squandering the best ones before Kvaratskhelia gave the hosts the win with goals in the 61st and 77th minutes.
Georgia is fourth in the group with seven points from eight matches and doesn’t have a chance to finish in the top two. Its only other victory was at last-place Kosovo.
AL WAKRAH — Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved three penalty kicks in his team's 3-1 win over Japan in a shootout at the World Cup on Monday, securing a return to the quarterfinals for the runner-up in the 2018 tournament.
MOMBASA — Scientists around the world are warning governments who will be gathering in Montreal this week for the United Nations biodiversity summit to not repeat past mistakes and are urging officials to “avoid trade-offs” between people and conservation needs in a report Monday.
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