Spain won 2-0 at Kosovo on Wednesday to regain control of its fate in World Cup qualifying in a match marked by protests by the home fans over Spain’s non-recognition of the country.
Pablo Fornals and Ferran Torres scored to give Spain 13 points, four more than Sweden, which lost 2-1 at Greece. The Swedes have two games in hand. Spain and Sweden will face each other in their final qualifier in November.
Some of the nearly 1,000 fans at the Fadil Vokrri Stadium in Pristina displayed banners criticizing Spain’s stance not to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence from Serbia.
”Dear Royal Spanish Football Federation, WELCOME TO THE REPUBLIC OF KOSOVO,” read one of the banners.
Fans also used banners with big letters spelling ”REPUBLIC.”
In the nations’ encounter in April, Spain’s national broadcaster disregarded normal protocol by not mentioning Kosovo as a country and using lowercase letters for ”kos” in its graphics. Ahead of that game, the Spanish federation had already upset Kosovo officials by referring to the country as a ”territory.”
The broadcaster on Wednesday used uppercase ”KOS,” though announcers still referred to the opponents as the ”team from the Kosovo federation” and used phrases like ”players from the federation of Kosovo.”
Fornals, in his first start with Spain, put the visitors ahead with a shot from inside the area in the 32nd minute and Torres sealed the victory in a breakaway in the 90th.
Kosovo had twice come close to equalizing. Vedat Muriqi, who scored in the last two Kosovo matches, missed wide in a one-on-one situation in the 53rd, and Zymer Bytyqi forced Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon to make a difficult save after a close-range shot in the 80th.
”These games are always tough,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said. ”We struggled from the beginning but in the end we leave with the three points. It’s all very even, we saw the Greece-Sweden result. The fact that we depend on ourselves doesn’t mean that we are going to make it. We have two games left.”
Greece moved to third place in Group B – with six points and two games in hand compared to Spain – by beating Sweden with goals by Tasos Bakasetas in the 62nd and Vangelis Pavlidis in the 78th. Sweden pulled closer with a goal by substitute Robin Quaison in the 80th.
There was a wait of nearly four minutes to confirm Pavlidis’ goal as video review checked for an offside.
Sweden had many chances but was stopped by Greek goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos.
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