ALBACETE, Spain (Reuters) - Holders Spain booked their place at next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil with a minimum of fuss when Alvaro Negredo and substitute Juan Mata struck in a comfortable 2-0 home win over minnows Georgia on Tuesday.
The victory in Albacete meant the world and European champions finished top of qualification Group I on 20 points from eight matches, three ahead of France, who beat Finland 3-0 in Paris and go into the playoffs.
Negredo, who scored Spain’s second in Friday’s 2-1 win over Belarus and is looking a strong candidate for a regular place up front, clipped a volleyed Andres Iniesta centre into the net to put Spain ahead in the 26th minute.
The Manchester City forward scuffed a shot against the post five minutes before halftime before Mata, who had replaced Pedro moments earlier, pounced on a loose ball and cracked home from close range in the 61st.
“It (classification) is a routine thing but you have to give it its worth,” Del Bosque said at a news conference.
“We had a few problems against the lesser teams but we also showed our strength against a powerful France side,” he added in reference to Spain’s 1-0 win in Paris in March.
“We almost, almost found ourselves losing out to them in the group but we came through with flying colors.”
It was a memorable night for Iniesta, who hails from a small town around 40 kilometers from Albacete, and he was given a rapturous reception by the home fans.
A hero to Spaniards after he scored the goal that secured their first World Cup in South Africa in 2010, his assist for Negredo’s goal was a typically effortless piece of skill after his Barcelona team mate Pedro had sent him clear with a deft scooped pass.
“To seal qualification here, what better place could there be,” Iniesta said in a pitchside interview with Spanish television broadcaster Telecinco.
“It was a day of very strong emotions, my family here, all the people,” added the 29-year-old.
“Playing here on my home patch they treat me with a special affection. It was a nice day and a nice match to get to Brazil and I am just really happy.”
Spain last failed to qualify for a World Cup finals in 1974 and they will be bidding to become only the third nation to defend their title after Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962.
Tuesday’s success extended their unbeaten run at home to 30 matches stretching back to a 1-0 reverse to Romania in a friendly Cadiz in November 2006.
They completely dominated the defense-minded Georgians, who finished fourth in the five-nation group, a point ahead of Belarus, even as Del Bosque left a number of key players including Cesc Fabregas and David Silva on the bench.
Del Bosque had indicated after Friday’s labored performance that Spain needed more width and he made a number of changes to his starting formation.
Negredo started in the central attacking role instead of Michu and his pacy City team mate Jesus Navas was deployed on the right wing with Pedro on the left.
In defense, left back Alberto Moreno earned his first cap in place of Nacho Monreal and Juanfran was preferred to Alvaro Arbeloa on the right, while captain Iker Casillas reclaimed the keeper’s slot from Victor Valdes.
Negredo had looked dangerous before he put Spain ahead and he forced a fine save from Georgia keeper Roin Kvaskhvadze with an acrobatic overhead kick in the 20th minute.
The visitors were hoping to catch Spain on the break and the tactic almost paid off moments after Negredo’s opener when Nicholas Gelashvili raced free on the right and tested Casillas with an angled shot.
The home side could have added to their tally several times in the closing stages, with Negredo, Navas and Iniesta all going close.
Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Mitch Phillips and Justin Palmer