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September 21, 2017

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Spain open World Cup qualifying with late win

LONDON -- Spain left it late to open its 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-0 victory over Georgia on Tuesday, capping an unconvincing night for Europe's major powers.

While England needed an 87th-minute penalty by Frank Lampard to salvage a 1-1 draw with Ukraine at Wembley Stadium, Germany, Portugal and Italy all failed to impress despite securing victories in the second round of qualifiers.

Germany held on to beat neighbor Austria 2-1, with Mesut Oezil's 52nd-minute penalty proving the difference, while Portugal needed three goals in the final 27 minutes to see off Azerbaijan 3-0 and Italy only edged past lowly ranked Malta 2-0.

Spain, the reigning world and European champion, looked as if its run of 22 straight victories in qualifying — dating back to 2007 — would come to an end against a heavily defensive Georgia until Cesc Fabregas crossed for Roberto Soldado to turn the ball in from close range in the 86th minute.

"It was a hard-fought win against a rival that gave U.S. the ball but pulled back into its area," said Soldado, who was given a rare start up front ahead of Fernando Torres and the fit-again David Villa. "It was bewildering."

Spain, which in 2014 will be seeking an unprecedented fourth straight major title, wasn't in qualifying action on Friday — it beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 in a friendly instead — allowing France to take the early lead in Group I.

After beating Finland 1-0 on Friday, Didier Deschamps' side followed up with a 3-1 win at home to Belarus.

Franck Ribery finished off the scoring with a well-taken strike and helped create the other two — scored by Etienne Capoue and Christophe Jallet for their first international goals — in Saint-Denis.

"It was important for U.S. to win tonight," Ribery said, thinking ahead to France's next qualifier — away to Spain.

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