Spain welcomed an eclectic Sweden side to the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid and ran out as 3-0 victors.
La Roja aren't doing much wrong at the moment but given their stature and the expectations of them on the international stage, even with their recent wins in Group F, the Spanish public are distinctly unimpressed by recent performances,.
Sweden are quickly earning a reputation on this stage as being extremely hard to beat. A solid, compact side that had lost only one of it's last eight competitive fixtures before their trip to the very centre of the peninsula and one brimming with confidence after their successful World Cup and Nations League campaigns which preceded their impressive start to the qualifying group.
Story of the match
It took a while for this game to find any energy as Spain probed in the opening ten minutes but when it did come to life, it really came to life.
A blistering four-minute spell from the home side as they engorged their northerly visitors displaying relentless pressure throughout.
Fabian Ruiz, enjoying his first two caps and first start in this international window forced a brilliant save from Robin Olsen, now of AS Roma after his own breakthrough moment at the World Cup, with a shot from his weaker foot before Dani Parejo, fresh from the UEFA Europa League semi-finals, volleyed an effort goalwards that the keeper had to tip around the post.
The pressure seemingly paid off for Spain after two chances in the same minute that saw the ball find the net. Sergio Ramos, who calls the venue home at club level, had a header saved from Olsen before a well-worked move that began with Jordi Alba, traversed Parejo and into the box for Rodrigo only to be incorrectly ruled out for offside. A let off for Sweden indeed.
An injury to Viktor Claesson, scorer in all three of their opening qualifiers, was the most worrying moment as they lost one of the most pivotal parts of their limited frontline.
Spain did end the half well, efforts from Parejo and Ruiz failed to really trouble but the enigmatic Ramos almost provided a magical finish via an overhead kick just before the whistle.
The second half began quietly and remained that way until the hour. That the Bernabéu, witness to some of the most spectacular football in history over the years, was partaking in a Mexican wave, told it's own story about the action as Spain laboured again to find the goal despite all their intricate play around the middle of the park.
Isco and Robin Quaison both had chances before and after the hour respectively with the Spanish midfielder dragging a shot wide while Quaison, on the books of Bundesliga side Mainz, should have done better with the rare opportunity his side were afforded.
With their struggles to break down their opponents continuing, the shrill peep of the referee's whistle was music to Spanish ears in the sixty-third minute. A cross from the left blocked by the hand of Sebastian Larsson prompted the referee to point to the spot. Ramos did the rest, firing his side in front and allowing a sigh of relief across the nation and leaving Sweden coach Janne Andersson to bemoan all the hard work being undone from twelve yards.
The goal forced the visitors to come out that little bit more in search of an equalizer. Spain, with the goal in the bank, were able to control the game with much more ease with no real urgency to build on it. They did manage the second goal six minutes from time though, another penalty call, this time as Filip Helander fouled substitute Alvaro Morata. The Atletico Madrid striker found the same corner as his former team-mate Ramos to seal the points.
Mikel Oryarzabal, the scorer of eleven goals for Real Sociedad last season, rounded off the night by scoring on his maiden bow at international level. The assist credited to Rui as the midfielder placed the shot beyond Olsen and into the net to make it 3-0. A flattering scoreline to say the least but another win and a step closer to qualifying for the Group F leaders.
No Plan B?
The scoreline and three points aside, this was not a swashbuckling display by Spain by any means. They passed a lot, they looked for their openings and as usual had their moments of genuine quality in the build-up but really laboured to break down a Swedish side that worked hard but were never really clinging on for dear life other than a few minutes in the first half.
It is often said that sides like Spain and Barcelona rely so heavily on their tiki-taka style that when on the few occasions it doesn't work, they have no plan B to find the goals. Often in those situations, it is individual magic that bails the team out, Lionel Messi at Barcelona is an example, but Spain were being kept out comfortably before the penalty call which is more to do with Sweden being architects of their own defeat.
It must be said that Spain should have been in front early after an incorrect offside call and that would have undoubtedly changed the course of the match but if not for those penalty calls, Sweden may well have taken something from the contest.
Sweden will be just fine
A disappointing night for Sweden but anything earned from Monday's match would've been a bonus as they would've probably budgeted for zero when the draw was made. The biggest matches for them will come in their home ties vs. Romania and Norway and on the evidence of tonight, they have enough to move further ahead of those two nations and seal a qualification spot.
This is an international side definitely on the up given their achievements and performances in the last couple of years. They have plenty of resolve and spirit, shown by their away win in Turkey in the UEFA Nations League just one month after a home defeat that seemed like it would prove detrimental to their promotion hopes.
A nation full of confidence and belief that won't be hurt too much by this result and one that should be just fine in their remaining group matches.
Fabian Ruiz was a player to catch the eye for Spain as he made his first start for his country. He was the first player to test the Swedish goal with a rasping shot within the first fifteen minutes and he also provided the assist for the third and final goal of the evening.
Dani Parejo has really came to the fore at club level this season and had a stinging volley beaten away in the first half. He linked up well with Alba and Rodrigo for the disallowed goal and showed plenty of promise going forward.
Sergio Ramos continues to be a leader in the team and showed no nerves to convert his penalty. Had a header saved by Olsen and was unlucky with an overhead kick. Spain would struggle without him.
Robert Olsen deserves credit for his saves in the first half alone. Two brilliant saves one after the other and was also alert to deny Ramos. Has been criticized this season at Roma but was able to display his qualities in this match.
The Sweden team as a whole deserve praise for restricting Spain well for the most part but they also fell apart with the concession of the two penalties.
Madrid is known as the city of the "villa del Oso y el Madroño" (the bear and the Strawberry Tree) which comes from a thirteenth-century dispute between council and clergymen. Many years later, the Spanish bear was gift-wrapped just a few of those strawberries by the Swedes but there are perhaps more questions than answers following this 21st-century dispute.