2010 World Cup Qualification Fixtures, Results, Standings
Armenia eventually succumbed to a dogged Spain in Yerevan on Saturday evening, but gave the European champions a real scare. It seemed like it would be another one-sided affair after Cesc Fabregas gave the visitors the lead, but Robert Arzumanyan levelled matters in the second half. However, Juan Mata converted a penalty shortly after to give la Seleccion the win.
The hosts lined up in a defensive-minded 4-4-2 formation, while Vicente del Bosque rang the changes for la Furia Roja. Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata started on the flanks, with Fernando Torres alone up front after injuries to Dani Guiza and David Villa.
Spain were dominant in possession in the early stages as Armenia were content to sit behind the ball, and Cazorla twice went close with left foot shots in the first 10 minutes.
Armenia were rarely able to touch the ball as la Furia Roja went forward at will but the defence made some good blocks firstly from Torres, then from Cazorla. At the end of another flowing move from the visitors, Torres powered into the penalty area but was unable to keep his feet to test Roman Berezovsky.
It was not all one-way traffic though. Markos Pizzelli sent a shot just wide before Armenia earned a corner to rouse the home fans, but Spain were soon back on the attack and only a superb block by Hrayr Mkoyan stopped Torres from getting a shot away from close range.
Just before the half hour, Pizzelli made an enterprising run down the centre of the pitch and almost got free of the visitors' defence, but Carles Puyol recovered to remove the threat.
Cazorla almost gave the visitors the lead moments later when his cross went over everyone and hit the top of the post, but parity was not to continue for much longer. Xavi played a wonderful ball over the top of the Armenian defence, and with a delightful touch Cesc Fabregas clipped the ball over the keeper and into the net.
Armenia had never scored in an official match against la Seleccion prior to tonight, and it was a statistic that had to change if they were to get anything out of the game. However, they were unable to force Reina into a save before half-time, although their defence was just holding firm as Sergio Ramos and Carlos Marchena threatened to double the lead.
Fabulous Fabregas - Cesc put la Furia Roja ahead
Gerard Pique was substituted on at half-time for Marchena, and was immediately involved as he made a defensive block inside the visitors' penalty area. Pepe Reina then had to be quick off his line to pluck a through ball out of the air as Armenia started brightly.
The rain showed no sign of abating in the second period, and neither did the pressure from Spain. Fernando Torres was substituted off after a disappointing performance for Alvaro Negredo, who had just over half an hour to make his mark on his debut.
Amazingly, in the 58th minute the scores were level. Armenia had a dangerous free kick which Artavazd Karamyan flighted in, and Robert Arzumanyan rose highest to head home amid heavy defensive pressure.
The crowd were in full voice, and Spain looked to react quickly after conceding just their third goal in qualifying. Five minutes after conceding, la Furia Roja had a penalty after Mata was brought down in the area by Berezovsky. Mata then stepped up himself to send the 'keeper the wrong way and restore Spain's lead.
Carles Puyol picked up a booking shortly thereafter, which rules him out of the clash against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Marcos Senna tested Berezovsky with a drive from range in the 72nd minute as the visitors looked to put the game out of reach.
Spain were also having to defend well in difficult conditions as the hosts came forward, but they were denied on a number of occasions by the offside flag. Berezovsky pulled off a fine save from Fabregas with five minutes remaining to keep the tie close, before the hosts won a free kick in the Spain half in the dying seconds.
However, the European champions dealt with the threat and picked up their ninth straight victory in Group 5. Armenia were by no means outclassed by la Furia Roja as they belied their position at the bottom of the group to produce a spirited performance.
Anthony Wright, Goal.com