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Spain on the up

Spain 3-0 Northern Ireland
Rubén Baraja's two goals help Spain to three points.

Two goals from Rubén Baraja helped Spain to a 3-0 win over a defence-minded Northern Ireland in their EURO 2004™ Group 6 qualifier in Albacete.

Rare lapse
The Valencia CF midfield player struck his first after he made the most of a rare lapse from the Northern Irish defence to send his glancing header past goalkeeper Maik Taylor and into the net on 19 minutes. Baraja then had a hand in creating his team's second when he slipped a neat pass to Vicente on the left. The young winger cut a perfect cross into the area where it was met by the advancing Guti who headed his first goal for the national side.

Spain remain top
A minute from time Baraja claimed his second and made it 3-0 when he saw his fierce drive take a deflection and end up in the back of the net. The victory means that Spain, who recorded a 2-0 victory away to Greece in their opening match, remain top of the group. Ukraine, though, will have a chance to overtake them when they travel to Belfast on Wednesday.

Captained by Raúl
Spain were captained by Raúl González, who had recovered from a groin injury in time for the game. The Irish had a scare after only two minutes when a poor clearance from goalkeeper Taylor found Guti 30 metres out. He tried to release Joaquín, lurking inside the area, but his pass was over-hit. However, Spain took the lead after 19 minutes when Baraja out-jumped Colin Murdock and headed past Taylor following Xavi's delicate chip.

Off the post
The Irish almost conceded a second goal after 22 minutes when Raúl found space outside the area, only to drag his shot wide. Vicente also went close as the opening 45 minutes drew to a close but his shot came back off the post after it took a slight deflection off Gerry Taggart.

Guti header
The Spanish turned up the heat after the break and added a second goal in the 59th minute - again from a header. Guti ghosted into the box and nodded the ball beyond Taylor after another Xavi cross. Raúl, who had been struggling with his fitness in recent weeks, came off after 62 minutes and was replaced by Real Madrid CF club-mate Fernando Morientes.

No mistake
Baraja should have extended Spain's lead after 75 minutes but somehow managed to screw his shot wide of the post from close range. However, he made no mistake two minutes from time when he latched on to the rebound after Taylor had parried a shot from sub Morientes.