Spain remain on top of Nations League A Group 4 after they and fellow heavyweights Germany recorded narrow wins on Saturday.
Mikel Oyarzabal scored early to help an underwhelming Spain secure a scrappy 1-0 victory over Switzerland in Madrid. The Real Sociedad forward snatched the only goal of the game in the 14th minute after Switzerland tried to play the ball out from the back but failed miserably, leaving Oyarzabal with a simple finish.
“The goal isn’t their mistake, it’s our good play,” said Luis Enrique, the Spain coach. “It was great work by our team that was rewarded by a goal.”
Barcelona’s teenage sensation Ansu Fati and Oyarzabal spurned further chances as Luis Enrique’s side failed to add to their lead.
Luis Enrique had picked an experimental squad with plenty of youth, guided by a couple of veterans, including Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets. Both were solid at the Alfredo Di Stéfano stadium at Real Madrid’s training ground, in which Spain did enough to win but were far from their best.
Switzerland carved out the first chance of the game but David de Gea reacted well to deny Loris Benito, before the visitors handed Spain the lead on a platter. Yann Sommer, De Gea’s opposite number, tried to take a short goal-kick but misplaced his pass to Granit Xhaka, with Mikel Merino nipping in to steal the ball and feed his Real Sociedad teammate Oyarzabal, who finished with ease.
Fati, who became Spain’s youngest ever goalscorer in their previous Nations League outing against Ukraine in September, might have doubled the lead early in the second half but his strike was blocked. Oyarzabal then hit the side-netting from close range as Spain started to create more chances and the game became stretched, but neither side were able to find another goal.
Adama Traoré, who made his competitive debut as a substitute after winning his first cap against Portugal on Wednesday, said: “In the final third we weren’t able to finish and we have to keep working on that, me especially. But we leave here with the three points.”
Germany scored in both halves to beat Ukraine 2-1 in Kyiv for their first ever victory in this competition.
Matthias Ginter put Germany ahead in the 20th minutes after good work from Antonio Rüdiger, and Leon Goretzka pounced on a mistake by the Ukraine keeper Georgiy Bushchan to head in their second goal four minutes after the restart.
Despite having the rested Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig players back in the lineup, the Germans were far from their best and a 77th-minute Ruslan Malinovskyi penalty woke up the 20,000 crowd in Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium.
In a sloppy first half Germany repeatedly lost possession, allowing Ukraine to quickly counter attack before Ginter’s goal settled their nerves.
Having conceded equalisers in each of their three previous matches, Germany were eager to add to their lead and carved out several good chances. But Bushchan had a good day making a string of saves before he let the ball slip out of his hands, allowing Goretzka to score in the 49th minute. He then again was on hand to stop them scoring, superbly palming a Serge Gnabry shot wide.
Malinovskyi pulled one back from the spot but the Germans managed to protect their lead despite desperate late attacks from the hosts.
“Obviously I am happy we won but we could have been leading 3-0 or 4-0,” Germany’s coach, Joachim Löw, said. “In some cases we gave up the ball too easily. When we were 2-0 up they were tired and we should have played more counterattacks maybe. But overall we were solid and did not allow them too many chances,” he said.
On Tuesday Ukraine host Spain while the Germans, who had not won a single game in the inaugural 2018-19 competition and would have been relegated but for the decision to expand League A groups to four teams, take on Switzerland.