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Spain stay in contention

Wednesday, 30 March 2005

[1] Spain withstood significant second-half pressure to hold FIFA World Cup qualifying Group 7 leaders Serbia and Montenegro in Belgrade and leave the section wide open.

Kezman chance

[2] The two teams are locked in a battle with Lithuania to claim the sole automatic qualifying berth, with just two points separating the leading trio. None of the sides managed to wrest the initiative this evening, although Mateja Kezman came close. The Chelsea FC striker had the best chance of the match just after the interval after being played in by Savo Milosevic but his firm shot came back off the upright.

Raúl dropped

[3] Much of the pre-match attention had focussed on the surprise decision by Spanish coach Luis Aragonés to drop Raúl González to the bench. He was replaced by the in-form Iván de la Peña, playing just behind striker Fernando Torres, and the change seemed to revitalise the visitors, who started brightly.

Del Horno shot

[4] After impressing in the friendly against China, Arsenal FC striker Jose Antonio Reyés was also included, while Joaquín started on the right flank but for all their attacking prowess, it was Asier Del Horno who fashioned the first opening of the match. The full-back surged forward to collect the ball on the edge of the box but well placed, he blazed over the crossbar.

Spain press

[5] Spain continued to press, with De la Peña harrying the Serbo-Montenegrin defence, and the RCD Espanyol forward created openings for Torres and Sergio Ramos but both were spurned. At the other end, the home side were reliant on the excellent Predrag Djordjevic to provide respite and he almost did so in perfect fashion when he supplied Kezman midway through the first half, but his shot veered well wide.

Djordjevic opportunities

[6] Djordjevic was narrowly wide with a shot of his own just before the interval but only after Serbo-Montenegrin goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric had saved efforts from Reyes and Joaquín. Spain came out for the restart without Carles Puyol, who had finished the first half limping, and the Spanish defence immediately struggled without him as Kezman was denied by the post. Djordjevic also put a free-kick wide.

Torres opening

[7] Torres blazed a late chance over the bar but Spain were forced to settle for a share of the spoils and remain two points behind their opponents. They play host to Lithuania on 4 June, when Serbia and Montenegro face Belgium.

Spain's Xavi Hernández tussles with Igor Duljaj