WORLD CUP REPORT – Europe – Group I including video highlights

Europe GroupI

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Spain's Juan Manuel Mata, David Silva and Sergio Busquets, left to right, lament at the end of the match during a Group I 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match after Finland tied 1-1, at El Molinon stadium in Gijon, northern Spain on Friday, March 22, 2013. Photo: Alvaro Barrientos

Spain 1 (Sergio Ramos 49)

Finland 1 (Pukki 79)

Spain conceded a late goal Friday to draw 1-1 at home with Finland, conceding top spot to France in their qualifying group and jeopardizing its chance of automatically advancing to the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

Sergio Ramos marked his 100th appearance for Spain by scoring from a header in the 49th minute after Finland had bunkered down in its area throughout the first half. But Spain paid for not converting its overwhelming possession into a second goal when Teemu Pukki volleyed into the net from a cross after a 79th-minute counterattack in what was Finland’s first shot on goal.

Spain’s second straight draw left it with eight points in Group I, while Finland has two. France took sole possession of first place on 10 points by beating Georgia 3-1 also on Friday. The group winner automatically qualifies for World Cup, while the runner-up is likely to face a playoff. Spain visits France on Tuesday in a match that could go a long way toward determining the group winner.

“We are disappointed,” said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who had little to celebrate on his record-setting 69th game with the national team. “It seems impossible that after dominating the game we lost our concentration. We have four games ahead of us and we have to keep fighting. There are still a lot of points in play.”

Del Bosque broke Ladislao Kubala’s record of most games at the head of the Spanish national team. The former Real Madrid coach has a record of 57 wins, six draws and six losses with Spain. Almost the entire match at El Molinon Stadium was played on the edge of or inside Finland’s area, as Spain probed the visitors’ tightly packed defense of five midfielders in front of a four-man defense. With seven Barcelona players in the starting 11, Spain dominated possession from the start against the Scandinavians.

Finland’s defensive stance worked throughout the first 48 minutes, with Spain limited to long strikes by Santi Cazorla and Andres Iniesta that goalkeeper Niki Maenpaa did well to save. Ramos put Spain in front when he held off his marker and turned David Silva’s corner — Spain’s 10th to none for Iceland at that stage — back inside the near post with a bouncing header. Down a goal, Finland finally showed some attacking intent, and Pukki surged forward to reach a cross and toe it beyond goalkeeper Victor Valdes, starting in place of the injured Iker Casillas.

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

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France 3 (Giroud 45, Valbeuna 47, Ribery 61)

Georgia 1 (Kobakhidze 71)

Les Bleus were unlucky not to take the lead after just seven minutes when Franck Ribery saw his curling effort come off the crossbar. The hosts continued to dominate proceedings at Stade de France in Paris and eventually went ahead in first-half injury time through Olivier Giroud. Mathieu Valbuena put in a well-measured ball inside the Georgia penalty box that the Arsenal striker headed home.

Valbuena himself etched his name on the scoresheet just two minutes into the second half after being sent through by Ribery. The Marseille midfielder returned the favour to his French teammate just after the hour mark, sending Ribery through to finish with ease and make it 3-0 to the former European and world champions. Georgia pulled a goal back in the 71st minute through Aleksandre Kobakhidze, who took advantage of Mamadou Sakho’s poor defending to slot home past Hugo Lloris from close range.

The result means that France have now leapfrogged Spain into top spot in Group I.

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

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WillBurns

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