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Finals in sight after Spain beat stubborn Belarus

Spain 2-1 Belarus
Second-half goals from Xavi Hernández and Álvaro Negredo moved the Group I leaders to within a point of qualifying for a world title defence in Brazil. 

Álvaro Negredo celebrates after putting Spain 2-0 ahead
Álvaro Negredo celebrates after putting Spain 2-0 ahead ©Getty Images

FIFA World Cup holders Spain edged closer to automatic qualification for next summer's finals in Brazil with a hard-fought victory against Belarus in La Roja's penultimate match in Group I.

Largely frustrated by Georgi Kondratiev's side in a first half shorn of clear-cut chances, Spain increased the pace after the restart and were rewarded just past the hour when Xavi Hernández slammed home his 13th international goal. Substitute Álvaro Negredo added a second before Sergei Kornilenko's late strike ensured a nervous finish for the hosts.

Despite dominating proceedings in the opening 45 minutes, Vicente del Bosque's team – featuring debutant striker Michu in the starting lineup – were limited to a David Silva header that flashed wide of the target.

Switching to a three-man defence after the restart allowed the world and European champions to find more space further upfield and they took the lead when Egor Filipenko's loose clearance landed at the feet of skipper Xavi who drilled home for 1-0.

Negredo came on for Michu soon afterwards and the change led to Spain extending their advantage in Mallorca, the forward stooping to nod in Sergio Ramos's centre from the right. With the game heading towards its conclusion, substitutes Sergei Krivets and Kornilenko combined, with the latter powering in a left-footed drive to reduce the deficit.

The result leaves pacesetters Spain needing just a point from their final group fixture against Georgia in Albacete on Tuesday in order to clinch top spot ahead of France, who host Finland the same night.