First-half goals from Juan Mata and Xabi Alonso maintained Spain's 100% record in qualifying Group I with a 2-0 win in the Czech Republic that throws the race for second place in the section wide open.
Vicente del Bosque had insisted his team would not lack motivation despite having already secured qualification prior to arriving in Prague. Mata and Alonso proved him right as they both found the net within 23 minutes, leaving the Czechs − who had Tomáš Hübschman dismissed midway through the second half − waiting anxiously on Scotland's result in Liechtenstein on Saturday.
The hosts had spoken of their desire to keep the visitors on the back foot, but the world and European champions are not used to being dictated to. After a trademark spell of short passing, Xavi Hernández squeezed the ball past three defenders for Mata to steer beyond the advancing Petr Čech and ruin the hosts' plans as early as the seventh minute.
Rattled by the early setback, Michal Bílek's men struggled to respond, and the size of their task increased when David Silva and Fernando Torres exchanged passes down the right to allow Silva to dart into the box and pick out the unmarked Alonso.
Seemingly sated, Spain sat back and were almost caught out. Daniel Pudil teed up Tomáš Rosický, who drove wide, before the KRC Genk man sent over a cross that the unmarked Milan Baroš should have brought under control. The ball skidded under the striker's foot, however, thereby epitomising a frustrating opening 45 minutes for the hosts.
Only Michal Kadlec's attentions stopped Torres seriously troubling Chelsea FC team-mate Čech with a close-range header after the break, and Hübschman's wild challenge on Alonso merely compounded the hosts' problems ahead of their match in Lithuania on Tuesday. It could have been worse as a Čech save and then the woodwork prevented Javi Martínez giving Spain the greater margin of victory their display deserved.
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