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September 21, 2017

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Spain take first step toward bid to win 4 straight

MADRID -- Perfect in qualifying for tournaments since 2007 with 22 consecutive victories, Spain visits Georgia on Tuesday to take its first step toward the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and what would be an unprecedented fourth straight major title.

Spain retained the European Championship title earlier this year without career scoring leader David Villa, who returned from a broken leg for Friday's 5-0 exhibition rout of Saudi Arabia. Spain's last competitive loss was to Switzerland at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"Playing in a World Cup in Brazil is something really important," midfielder Xavi Hernandez said on Monday.

Villa scored in his first international match since last year, adding to an already potent attack led by Fernando Torres, David Silva and Pedro Rodriguez. No team has won consecutive World Cups since Brazil in 1958 and 1962.

"Being world and European champion doesn't guarantee you anything," Xavi said. "These are difficult matches. It's not going to be easy at all to get to the World Cup, even if some already think it's a done deal."

European qualifying began Friday, with Italy the only top team that failed to start with a victory.

A 2-2 draw at Bulgaria in Group B angered supporters. The Azzurri host 139th-ranked Malta.

"Our performance in Sofia was unacceptable," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "It's right that the marks in the newspapers were low. The squad was the most experienced that I've had in my two years as coach, which shows that the things you learn can be forgotten."

The Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, England and France all will try for 2-0 starts. While England routed Moldova 5-0 in Group H and the Dutch beat Turkey 2-0 in a potentially tricky Group D opener, Portugal was far from impressive in rallying to defeat Luxembourg 2-1.

Germany was expected to beat Faeroe Islands by a bigger margin than 3-0. France, which is in the same group as Spain, defeated Finland 1-0.

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