Spain secured at least a play-off place with a 2-1 win against UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 6 opponents Ukraine in a compelling game at the Manuel Martínez Valero in Elche.
The visitors had to win to keep alive any hopes of qualifying for next summer's tournament but, despite holding out for an hour and creating several chances, they were unable to unlock an organised Spain side until too late in the game.
By the time Andriy Shevchenko beat Iker Casillas to put the visitors on the scoresheet, Spanish captain Raúl González had already scored twice, although the Real Madrid CF striker took nearly an hour to find the target.
A tight first half came to life when Shevchenko almost gave his side the lead but was just unable to turn a loose ball goalwards. The second half was far more eventful and just three minutes in, Rubén Baraja found himself 20 metres from goal with time to look up - but his curling effort dropped wide of the far post.
A goal was clearly on the cards and the home fans expected it to come when Joseba Etxeberría was fouled by Yuriy Dmytrulin and the referee pointed to the spot. But the crowd were made to wait for the opening goal after Fernando Torres watched Olexandr Shovkovskiy save his spot-kick.
"I was keen to take the penalty and score my first goal," Torres said afterwards. "But the keeper saved it and there's no point in going over it. We won and that's the most important thing."
Shevchenko then drew a wonderful leaping save from Casillas and watched in horror as Serhiy Fedorov put his free header wide from the rebound - and Ukraine paid dearly. In the 59th minute Baraja slipped the ball through to Raúl, who lifted his shot over Shovkovskiy. Twelve minutes later it was 2-0 when the goalkeeper failed to punch away substitute José Reyes Calderón's corner and Raúl nodded the ball into the empty net from close range.
From that point on it was all Ukraine and after Anatoliy Tymoschuk sent a 25-metre free-kick fizzing wide, Casillas pulled off two tremendous saves to protect Spain's two-goal lead. But with six minutes remaining, Shevchenko picked up the ball on the left wing, cut inside and threaded a wonderful shot into the far corner.
Shevchenko almost grabbed his second when he pounced on a loose pass 30 metres from the Spanish goal and strode forwards before drawing yet another fine save from Casillas. But with the goalkeeper in fine form, Spain held out for victory.
Juan Carlos Valerón was happy to pick up the victory. He said: "It was a tough game until we got the first goal. Ukraine were very well placed at the back and perhaps we started too eagerly. But we are happy to be able to continue celebrating wins with our fans."