Spain edge towards Brazil with win in Finland
World champions Spain moved to within touching distance of a place at next year's World Cup with a 2-0 win over Finland in Helsinki.
Jordi Alba got the visitors off to the perfect start when he collected Cesc Fabregas' fine lofted pass to slot home after 19 minutes.
Finland had their chances to level after the break but Alvaro Negredo sealed the points when he swept home Jesus Navas' cross four minutes from time.
Spain are now three points clear of France with just two games remaining in Group I after Didier Deschamps' men could only manage a 0-0 draw away to Georgia.
"It was a very difficult game because they were very compact and we found it difficult to find spaces," Spain boss Vicente del Bosque admitted afterwards.
"The most important thing though was to get the three points because it is a big step towards qualification.
"We now have three points of an advantage so we are in a great position."
Del Bosque had kept faith with captain Iker Casillas in goal despite his lack of playing time with Real Madrid and, on the occasion of his 150th cap, Casillas had to make an important early stop to prevent Sergio Ramos turning into his own net at the near post.
The Spanish boss had also handed competitive debuts to the Atletico Madrid pair of Koke and Mario Suarez and the latter's pressing was particularly effective as the visitors suffocated Finland as soon as they recovered possession.
Spain finally made their almost complete control of the ball count when Fabregas' lovely dinked ball over the top of the Finnish defence found the run of Alba and he controlled and finished beautifully to register his fifth international goal.
Having made the breakthrough, Spain's grip on the game continued to grow, but it was from one of the few opportunities they had to counter-attack themselves that they nearly doubled their advantage as Andres Iniesta's long pass picked out David Villa and he weaved his way into the area before flashing a shot across the face of the goal.
Pedro and Suarez both fired over after the break as the visitors continued to press, but the intensity from Del Bosque's side dipped for a spell and they were nearly made to pay as Finland missed two decent chances to level.
Alexander Ring fired wastefully over when a long ball over the top put him clean through on goal before Teemu Pukki's weak finish was easily handled by Casillas.
Spain eventually did make the game safe when Xavi released Navas down the right and he squared for his Manchester City teammate Negredo to slot home from close range.
And Negredo was delighted to avoid a recurrence of the late equaliser Finland scored to draw 1-1 and snatch a point from the meeting between the two in Gijon back in March.
"We dominated but we didn't want the same thing to happen as in the home game against them," he said.
"The good thing was at the end we scored the second goal and could be a bit calmer."