AFP PARIS (AFP-Jiji) — Spain took a step closer to qualification for Euro 2020 on Thursday after surviving a scare in Romania to win 2-1 and continue its 100 percent record, while Italy also extended its perfect start with a 3-1 win in Armenia after conceding an early goal.
A Sergio Ramos first-half penalty and a beautiful team goal finished off by Paco Alcacer were just about enough for the Spaniards in Bucharest, giving them five wins from five matches to maintain a five-point lead at the top of Group F.
It was Spain's first match since Luis Enrique stepped down as coach in June to look after his daughter Xana, who died late last month of bone cancer.
Spain is followed by Sweden, which is on 10 points after thumping the Faroe Islands 4-0, with Norway a further two points back after a comfortable 2-0 win over Malta.
“We had an excellent first half, creating a lot of opportunities that should have allowed us go into the break with a bigger lead,” said Ramos.
“We lost a bit of focus after the second goal and they were able to take advantage, they had nothing left to lose. We deserved the win but we have to learn how to manage these kind of matches.”
Ramos got the ball rolling for the away side from the spot after Dani Ceballos was brought down by Ciprian Deac, and the points looked secure two minutes after the break when Alcacer tapped home Jordi Alba’s cross following a sensational pass from Ceballos.
However, substitute Florin Andone made an almost immediate impact when he nipped in front of Ramos to nod one back just before the hour mark, and the hosts soon had the wind in their sails.
They received a further boost 11 minutes from time when Diego Llorente clumsily took down George Puscas as he raced towards goal in search of a leveler.
It proved to not be Puscas’ night as he saw two stoppage time efforts brilliantly saved by Spain keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Earlier, Italy strengthened its grip on Group J after coming from behind to see off Armenia thanks to a Andrea Belotti brace and Lorenzo Pellegrini’s first international goal.
Roberto Mancini’s side is three points ahead of second-place Finland, a 1-0 victor over Greece thanks to a Teemu Pukki penalty, and seven ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which won handily 5-0 over Liechtenstein.
The Italians trailed after 11 minutes in Yerevan when Aleksandre Karapetyan scored for the hosts. Torino captain Belotti tapped in Emerson Palmieri’s cross to put Italy level on 28 minutes before Karapetyan went from hero to villain by being sent off in first-half stoppage time for a second yellow card.
Belotti doubled his tally 10 minutes from time after substitute Pellegrini had put the away side in the lead.
“The satisfaction is to have won a game that was not at all easy,” said Mancini, who becomes the first Italy coach to win five consecutive European qualifiers in one group.
David McGoldrick made sure that Ireland stayed on top of Group D with a late leveler in Dublin that gave the host a 1-1 draw with Switzerland.
The Irish are three points in front of Denmark — a 6-0 winner over Gilbraltar — and six ahead of Switzerland, which has two games in hand.