Belfast Telegraph

FYR Macedonia 2 Spain 3

European champions Spain survived a scare in Skopje tonight before fighting back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to record a narrow friendly victory over FYR Macedonia.

Spain, whose 35-match unbeaten streak was ended by a shock defeat at the hands of the United States at this summer's Confederations Cup, looked set to suffer another surprise loss as Goran Pandev put hosts Macedonia two goals up inside 32 minutes.

However, Vicente del Bosque's side showed why they are among the favourites to add next year's World Cup crown to their European title by launching a stunning fightback at the start of the second half to net three times in just five minutes and claim the win.

Fernando Torres headed home the first, before Gerard Pique and Albert Riera added two more in quick succession to earn the Spanish their 15th win in 16 matches since Del Bosque took over from Luis Aragones after Euro 2008.

Both teams observed a minute's applause before the match in memory of Espanyol captain Daniel Jarque, while the Spain team wore shirts bearing Jarque's number for the national anthems prior to the game.

Jarque died at the age of 26 on Saturday after his heart stopped following a training session in Coverciano, Italy where the Barcelona-based club were on a pre-season camp.

Once the match, which formed part of the Macedonian FA's centenary celebrations, started it was the home side who settled much the quicker and they were soon 2-0 up after Pandev had twice broken the visitors' offside trap.

Pandev's opening goal came in the eighth minute when he found himself in acres of space following Ilco Naumoski's through ball, and the Lazio striker doubled his account in the 32nd minute after again getting in behind the Spain defence, cutting back inside Carles Puyol onto his favoured left foot and drilling a low shot past Jose Reina.

In between those two efforts Aco Stojkov had also been denied by a fine block by Reina at his near post as Spain's defence struggled badly early on.

Spain finally began to find their feet towards the end of the first half and David Villa almost pulled a goal back when his 20-yard effort came back off the post with Jane Nikoloski beaten.

Despite that late improvement, it was a below-par first half display from the Spanish and they had it all to do at the break.

The European champions needed just 10 minutes of the second half to turn the game on its head, though.

Prolific Liverpool striker Torres started the fightback in the 50th minute when he glanced home Xavi's cross, and then just three minute later Pique levelled the scores with his second strike for his country.

Cesc Fabregas, one of three half-time replacements along with Sergio Busquets and Riera, was unfortunate to see his 25-yard strike crash against the foot of the post, but the rebound fell kindly for the unmarked Pique who tapped into an empty net.

It was a breathtaking start to the second period for Spain, and it was to get even better for the visitors 60 seconds later when Riera slammed home a stunning left-footed drive off the underside of the crossbar from the left-hand side of the area.

Spain continued to push forward and Pique and Dani Guiza both went close to increasing their side's lead, but Macedonia almost caused a late setback for the visitors when Darko Tasevski's brilliant 25-yard free-kick struck the crossbar.

Belfast Telegraph


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