Spain starts with narrow victory

Narrow win ... Spain players celebrate Roberto Soldado's goal (Getty Images)

Spain needed a late Roberto Soldado goal to get its 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign off to a winning start against Georgia in Tbilisi.

The world champion dominated possession throughout the contest without creating many clear-cut chances against the side ranked 86th in the world and could even have been behind early in the second half when Alexander Amisulashvili struck the post.

However, the visitor's persistence paid off when a short corner was worked to Cesc Fabregas and his low ball in was clinically swept home by Soldado in the 86th minute.

The Valencia striker's inclusion ahead of Fabregas and Fernando Torres turned out to be an inspired choice by coach Vicente del Bosque.

Soldado was the only change to the side that started Spain's last competitive match - its EURO 2012 final victory over Italy.

However, the early signs were not promising as it struggled to find a way through Georgia's tightly-packed defence in the first half despite enjoying 81 per cent possession.

Sergio Ramos' towering header from Xavi's corner was well held by Giorgi Loria on 11 minutes and Spain had to wait until just before the half-hour for another serious effort on goal as David Silva curled a shot off the inside of the post.

The pressure did start to tell towards the end of the half, though, as Xavi forced Loria into a fine flying save with another long-range effort before the Barcelona midfielder brilliantly picked out Soldado inside the area, but he could only fire against the onrushing Loria.

The pattern of Spain dominating without much penetration continued after the break and it was nearly made to pay in spectacular fashion when in a rare foray forward by the host Amisulashvili struck the base of Iker Casillas' right-hand post.

Del Bosque responded almost immediately by sacrificing Sergio Busquets for the more attacking option of Pedro but the all-important goal still refused to come as Gerard Pique shot wastefully over from just outside the area before Jordi Alba also fired wide from a very narrow angle.

Santi Cazorla and Fabregas were introduced by Del Bosque in the final quarter in the search for a winner and finally it was Fabregas who unlocked the door as he received Pedro's pass and cut the ball back into the area for Soldado to side-foot home.

Even then a late rally by the host nearly ensured the points were shared but Irakli Sirbiladze's goalbound effort was brilliantly blocked by Ramos.

Source PA Sport