Spain vs. Finland: 5 Talking Points from World Cup Qualifier
Finland fired home late on to stun Spain and steal a point on the back of a disciplined performance on Friday night.
Faced with the prospect of shutting out the World and European champions, Mixu Paatelainen opted to defend rather than attack.
And it looked to be paying dividends until Sergio Ramos headed La Roja into a second half lead.
The visitors didn't drastically change though and stuck to their task, undeterred by the Spain goal.
It was always likely they'd get one chance, and they did. Teemu Pukki finished following a Finnish move down the left to grab the draw with 10 minutes left.
Here are five talking points born from tonight's match...
Finland Execute a Plan
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The following Tweet from journalist Sid Lowe includes a photo which perhaps demonstrates Finland's plan better than 1000 words.
— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) March 22, 2013
But that shouldn't be a slight on Mixu Paatelainen's men, who stuck to their task admirably and struck the sucker punch after they had gone 1-0 down.
With very obvious directions to sit deep and defend, they actually frustrated Spain in the first half.
The longer the half went on, the more it became apparent as La Roja were forced to try their luck from distance—Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas all having a go.
Even when Sergio Ramos headed the home side into a second half lead, their plan didn't change.
And once Teemu Pukki took his chance to level the scores up, it was as we were in the first half for the final 10 minutes.
There will be some tired Finland players on Friday night, but it'll no doubt feel worth it.
Spain Must Win in France
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Friday night was not the first disappointment in Spain's qualification quest for the World Cup in Brazil next year.
Against France in October, playing in Madrid, La Roja led 1-0 only to let their neighbors back into the match late on and grab an equalizer.
And following France's 3-0 win over Georgia—also on Friday evening—Les Blues sit proudly at the top of Group I ahead of welcoming Spain on Tuesday.
If France were to beat Vicente Del Bosque's side in the upcoming fixture, they would move onto 13 points—five ahead of Spain.
Didier Deschamps' side would then only have to face Finland, Georgia and Belarus to make sure of topping the group. They could even afford to drop some points along the way.
With that in mind, Spain are going to have to go for the win if they want to remain in the running for automatic qualification to the World Cup.
That should be good news for the neutral football fan.
Ramos the Record Breaker
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What do Iker Casillas, Andoni Zubizarreta, Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, Raul Gonzalez, Fernando Torres and Carles Puyol have in common?
They've all reached the 100 cap landmark for Spain.
Tonight, Sergio Ramos not only joined them, but surpassed them.
As he captained La Roja, on his 100th international appearance, he became the youngest European to ever reach that landmark.
The record had previously been held by Germany's Lukas Podolski:
Spain's Sergio Ramos today became the youngest European player to reach 100 International caps. 26 years. 357 days. Beat Podolski by 21 days— Sportive23 (@Sportive23_) March 22, 2013
When you consider his age, it is scary to imagine just how many caps the Real Madrid defender can go on to win for his country.
He also scored a goal to mark the occasion, though it will be little reward considering the disappointing nature of the dropped points.
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Iker Casillas, with his 143 caps, has been hogging the Spanish No.1 shirt for so long it's been easy to forget that they actually have other goalkeepers.
Liverpool's Pepe Reina and Barcelona's Victor Valdes have long been waiting in the wings, playing second fiddle to San Iker, while David de Gea of Manchester United and Valencia'a Vicente Guaita are tipped as long-term successors.
On Friday night, with Casillas injured, we were allowed a glimpse of who Vicente Del Bosque sees as his backup stopper.
He went with Barca's Valdes, not that he had anything to do.
Next up is France in what will be a slightly tougher match.
If Valdes is to continue—despite conceding a goal—he'll have to get those cobwebs off of his gloves.
Spain's Ground Tour a Success
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It might have been filled with disappointment at the end, but Sporting Gijon's El Molinon provided a great atmosphere for Spain vs. Finland.
Unlike England, who have a national stadium, Spain take their team of stars on tour of some of the country's stadiums.
On Friday night, it made for a wonderful atmosphere with 30,000 fans familiar with Segunda football this season crammed in to see Vicente Del Bosque's squad.
The partying proved a bit premature though.
Once Sergio Ramos had headed home the opening goal, each completed pass was being serenaded with chants of "Ole"—there was even Mexican waves flying round.
It was more frantic in the last 10 minutes though.
Cheer turned to fear as Spain failed to find a winner following Finland's late leveler.