Luis Enrique claimed Spain are among the top teams in the world, but insisted they have to improve if they want to be the best.

La Roja defeated a plucky Kosovo side 2-0, making it consecutive wins to top Group B after Sweden ended their 66-game unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying that stretched back to 1993.

Pablo Fornals was on target for his first international strike, while Ferran Torres scored to become the first player to score six goals in a calendar year for Spain since David Silva (seven) in 2017.

Second-place Sweden slipping up against Greece opened a four-point gap but Luis Enrique implored his team to improve if they are to challenge to be the world's number-one outfit.

"We have made many mistakes, we have had many inaccuracies and we have suffered because of that," Luis Enrique told reporters post-match.

"It was a great relief to score the second goal, which ended the match and see the result that we all hope.

"This group is excellent and eager to improve, accept everything that they are told with the idea of being a stronger team. [We] made changes, six or seven new players coming in but the idea and philosophy stays the same.

"But we are not the best in the world even though we are among the best. Anyone can beat us and there is no one who wins every game."

The Spain head coach also bemoaned the quality of the pitch in Pristina, a sentiment echoed by Aymeric Laporte, who recorded a game-high 139 touches and completed another game-leading 96.9 per cent of his 129 passes.

"It was a highly contested game, we got [the win] at the end and it relieved us," Laporte said post-match.

"The pitch was not optimal. We kept our idea of playing and with a pitch like this, it is complicated.

"In the end, the important thing is the result. We have the determination to win everything, we are Spain and now we have to win everything."

Spain consolidated their spot at the top of Group B with a narrow 2-0 win over Kosovo in Wednesday's World Cup qualifying clash.

Pablo Fornals' first international goal from a tight angle and Ferran Torres' late strike proved the difference as Milot Rashica and Vedat Muriqi were made to rue missed chances for the hosts.

The visitors' loss against Sweden was their first in World Cup qualifying since 1993 and ended a 66-match unbeaten run but wins against Georgia and Kosovo have got them back on track.

Luis Enrique's men sit four points clear of Janne Andersson's side, who were beaten 2-1 by Greece on Wednesday, although they have two games in hand.

After Koke's deflected shot brought the first save from Arijanet Muric, Elbasan Rashani fired narrowly wide with a curling left-footed effort as the hosts dominated the opening stages.

Fornals punished Kosovo for not making their dominance pay, the West Ham man blasting a left-footed strike past Muric after a smart turn following Alvaro Morata's offload.

Morata almost doubled the lead with a long-range attempt before Carlos Soler's speculative free-kick forced the Kosovo goalkeeper to parry away.

Rashica offered Spain first-half warnings running in behind but they did not learn their lesson, Muriqi racing through one-on-one with Unai Simon after the break before dragging into the side-netting.

Torres then attempted a cute free-kick, arrowing under the wall but the wrong side of the left-hand post before Simon produced a low reflex save against Zymer Bytyqi as Spain clung onto their lead.

Torres added a late finish of his own, racing through and finding the bottom-left corner, with the goal standing after VAR reversed an initial offside decision.

What does it mean? Spain by no means cruising in Group B

Luis Enrique's men had won only one of their previous nine away fixtures, including friendlies, in all competitions but Wednesday's performance ended that poor run of form on the road.

Spain have coasted past Kosovo and Georgia by an aggregate score of 6-0 and now hold a four-point advantage over second-place Sweden, who now have Greece just three points behind them.

Kosovo, in contrast, responded well to a timid start in World Cup qualifying but failed to extend their unbeaten run to three games, leaving them in fourth with four points.

Super Soler

Despite being withdrawn in the 58th minute, Soler stood out as one of the visitors' key performers.

Against Georgia, he became only the second player since 2006 to score in their two opening games for Spain and he followed up in similar fashion, recording a game-high five key passes.

The Valencia midfielder also misplaced just three of his 43 passes, while also winning a team-high three fouls alongside Sergio Busquets.

Misfiring Muriqi

Muriqi wasted Kosovo's best chance as he slammed wide when set free one-on-one with Simon and after scoring in back-to-back games he will have been frustrated to not convert.

The forward also misplaced half of his 18 passes, losing possession 17 times as he completed just 27.3 per cent of his 11 opposition-half passes.

What's next?

Spain face Italy in the Nations League semi-final in October before travelling to Greece for their next qualifier the following month. Kosovo make the trip to Sweden on October 9.

Luis Enrique has reiterated he would love to see Pep Guardiola take over as Spain coach in the future.

Former Barcelona coach Guardiola suggested last month that he wishes to try his hand in international football after leaving Manchester City.

Guardiola's City deal runs until 2023, and while he plans to take a break whenever his time at the Premier League club is up, he also wants to experience coaching a national team.

Luis Enrique helped continue the legacy his former team-mate built at Camp Nou and said he would have no issues in standing aside for Guardiola.

In fact, it is something Luis Enrique wants to see.

"I'd love that, I wish [Guardiola] was the Spain coach. I'd love it – it would be perfect," he enthused in a news conference ahead of Spain's World Cup qualifier against Kosovo.

"What's more, I'd love to see our national team with his stamp on them.

"I don't think Spain could have a better coach."

Spain have not had it all their own way in qualification but nevertheless sit top of Group B after they bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Sweden by thrashing Georgia 4-0.

The Euro 2020 semi-finalists only hold a one-point advantage over Sweden, however, having played two games more.

As was the case for the Euros, Luis Enrique again did not select any Real Madrid players in his latest squad, though he played a straight bat when pressed on his decision on Tuesday.

"My actions speak louder than words [with regards to Real Madrid players]," he said.

"I could only dig myself a hole with an explanation."

Tottenham defender Sergio Reguilon has been called up to the Spain squad following an injury to Jose Gaya.

Valencia full-back Gaya started Sunday's 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Georgia, scoring the opening goal in the 14th minute.

But he was unable to see out the match due to a calf problem, on which he had a scan Monday morning.

As a precaution, Gaya will return to Valencia and be unavailable for Spain's next qualifier on Wednesday as La Roja face Kosovo in Pristina.

Reguilon, 24, will be hoping to add to his five previous senior caps for Spain, with this his first call-up of 2021.

Despite a mostly satisfactory debut season in the Premier League, Reguilon fell out of favour at international level last term and subsequently missed out on Euro 2020.

Upon his return to the Spain camp, Reguilon said: "The first thing I did when they called me was to put a message to Jose Gaya to see how he was.

"I am very happy to be here and see my team-mates again after a long time. It is very nice that they took me into consideration."

Reguilon has played every minute of the new Premier League season, with Spurs the only team to win all of their first three matches.

Luis Enrique was pleased with the way Spain responded to their defeat to Sweden with a comfortable victory over Georgia on Sunday.

La Roja suffered a shock 2-1 loss in Stockholm on Thursday, their first in 66 World Cup qualifying matches stretching back to 1993.

They bounced back in style in Badajoz, with goals from Jose Gaya, Carlos Soler, Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia securing a 4-0 win.

Head coach Luis Enrique felt the margin of victory could have been even greater given Spain's dominance, with Torres and Sarabia each seeing a goal disallowed for offside in a match in which the home side completed 820 passes to Georgia's 264.

"We professionals are used to living on a rollercoaster," Luis Enrique said. "You have to go through pain after a defeat, but quickly bite the bullet and think about the next game.

"Although it seems like the result was easy, it wasn't. We got through them on the inside, the outside, we created chances and we could have scored more goals."

The only disappointment for Spain was seeing some players forced off with physical problems.

While Luis Enrique thinks Aymeric Laporte was simply feeling some muscle fatigue, he is worried Gaya could have a bigger concern.

"Most of the changes were due to some discomfort for the players. I hope there are no serious injuries. That's the bad news," he said.

"Laporte has nothing, it's just a small overload. I don't think they'll even test him.

"Gaya does not look good."

 

Spain responded to their defeat to Sweden with an impressive 4-0 victory over Georgia in Badajoz on Sunday in their latest qualifier for Qatar 2022.

Goals from Jose Gaya, Carlos Soler, Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia earned Luis Enrique's men a comfortable victory and temporarily put them back on top of their group.

While that 2-1 loss in Stockholm on Thursday ended a 66-game unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying, there was little hangover in Extremadura as the hosts delivered a controlled and entertaining display for the packed crowd.

Gaya's first-time strike from the edge of the box was not the cleanest, but it was enough to give Spain a 14th-minute lead as it took a big deflection on its way past goalkeeper Giorgi Loria.

Soler made it 2-0 with 25 minutes gone, stylishly side-footing high into the net after Marcos Llorente's cut-back found its way to his feet.

Torres saw a goal disallowed for offside but still made it 3-0 before the break, his scuffed effort bouncing beyond Loria and into the bottom-left corner.

Georgia posed a threat to Unai Simon's goal early in the second half, but Spain pounced via a quick counter-attack, Sarabia lifting a finish high past Loria after he was brilliantly set up by Pablo Fornals.

Simon did produce a remarkable one-handed stop to deny Georges Mikautadze before he was replaced by Robert Sanchez, as Luis Enrique gave some game time to the substitutes in the closing stages.

Sarabia thought he had scored a fifth with the last kick of the game, but Fornals was judged offside before delivering his pinpoint cross.

What does it mean? Stylish response from Spain after Sweden shock

Amid the inquest into that defeat to Sweden – their first in World Cup qualifying since 1993 – this was a comfortable return to winning ways for La Roja.

There was a welcome clinical edge to their performance as they moved back to the top of Group B, a point ahead of Sweden but having played two games more.

Georgia remain bottom with one point from their five matches.

Torres terrific

This was another performance to show why Pep Guardiola likes to use Torres in a central attacking role for Manchester City.

Not only did he twice put the ball in the net, the first disallowed after a VAR check, but he also contested 10 duels – the most of anyone in his hour on the pitch.

He is the first Spain player to score at least five times in a calendar year since Isco in 2018.

Can Spain sustain momentum?

Kosovo away in the coming days will be a tougher test than this one, but it is crucial to Spain's hopes of topping the group that they keep up the pressure on Sweden.

Building some form and confidence would also do no harm to their Nations League chances – they face Italy in the semi-finals on October 6.

What's next?

Spain face Kosovo in Prishtina on Wednesday, while Georgia head to Sofia to play a friendly with Bulgaria.

Spain captain Sergio Busquets has expressed his concerns at FIFA's proposals to hold the men's and women's World Cups every two years. 

The men's World Cup has taken place every four years since the inaugural edition in 1930, aside from in 1942 or 1946 due to the Second World War, while the women's World Cup has followed suit since it was first staged in 1991. 

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has been campaigning for the change in his role as the governing body's chief of global football development. 

Meanwhile, the FIFA congress in May saw a vote go heavily in favour of carrying out a feasibility study into the project. 

On Friday, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said the European governing body had "serious reservations and grave concerns" surrounding the concept. 

Busquets has supported those views, expressing his concern for the potential impact the change would have on players. 

"We have little voice. Less and less is looked at by the player," the Barcelona midfielder said. 

"There will come a time when the player is going to explode. I see it as very difficult.  

"You have to sit down and value it. You have to see it from many points of view, not just wanting more." 

Luis Enrique remains optimistic that Spain will book their place at next year's World Cup, but is now focused on progressing via the play-offs rather than topping their qualifying group.

La Roja's hopes of topping Group B were dented by a 2-1 defeat to Sweden on Thursday, leaving them two points behind the leaders and having played an extra game.

It was the first time Spain had lost a World Cup qualifying match since a 1-0 reverse by Denmark in 1993, ending a 66-game unbeaten streak.

At the midway point in the campaign, Luis Enrique believes that topping the group is out of his side's hands and has turned his focus to securing second place and a play-off berth.

Addressing the media ahead of Sunday's meeting with Georgia, the head coach said: "Football is a game of mistakes; individual and collective. 

"There is no single cause as to why we lost the [Sweden] game. It's the sum of everything.

 

"It's no longer up to us. But it's up to us to win our own and be in the play-offs, win it and be in the World Cup. 

"There are two sides. You can always improve, but I try to see the bottle half-full."

Luis Enrique also backed defender Eric Garcia, who came under scrutiny following his performance against Sweden.

"I disagree with the criticism," he said of the Barcelona defender.

"He suffered in the transitions, but also [Aymeric] Laporte, because of the conditions of the Swedes. I'm delighted with their performance."

Jordi Alba leapt to the defence of Spain coach Luis Enrique after La Roja suffered their first World Cup qualifying defeat since 1993 at the hands of Sweden on Thursday.

In what was their first game since losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, Spain were in Stockholm hoping to go top of Group B on the road to Qatar 2022.

It was initially going well too, as Carlos Soler opened his account less than four minutes into his international debut as he turned in an Alba delivery.

But the Valencia midfielder made an error almost straight after the restart and Alexander Isak netted from 20 yards, meaning Spain's lead lasted just 63 seconds.

Viktor Claesson got the winner for Sweden in the second half, producing a cleverly disguised finish after inventive play by Dejan Kulusevski, with Spain's late pressure coming to nothing.

In the end, Spain – who had 75 per cent of the ball – finished with an expected goals value of 2.2 to Sweden's 0.6, highlighting the lack of decisiveness shown by La Roja in front of goal compared to their hosts.

Alba does not believe a major re-think is required for Luis Enrique, though he accepts Spain now have to be faultless if they are to usurp Sweden atop Group B given they are now two points adrift having played a game more than Janne Andersson's men.

"As in all matches, when you win or lose, you have to improve," he told Teledeporte. "The ideas of ​​the coach have been very good since he arrived and the players are taking to it perfectly. We have to improve as in all games, but we are doing a good job.

"It's clear we still have a lot to do. We have no margin for error. Today we have lost and there are still difficult games to be won.

"We have done things well, they have had their chances, they have put them in and we must continue to improve and do the job that the coach asks of us.

"We didn't deserve to lose. We had a very good first half, it's just a shame that after our goal they scored their goal in the next play.

"In the second half they waited for their strengths [counterattacks] and they did very well. We have no margin for error, we must win every game; we had that idea from the beginning, but now more than ever."

Luis Enrique echoed his left-back's sentiments and stressed Spain did not play poorly in general, though he rued a lack of success in midfield duels as well as Sweden's success in transition, with the pace and ability of Kulusevski and Isak routinely threatening the defence.

"It was not a bad game, there was ambition, good positioning, we have created many chances but we have lost many duels in midfield," he added.

"And with the transitions they have done us a lot of damage. We have lost many duels and they have generated more transitions than in the last ten games."

Spain suffered their first defeat in 90 minutes since October 2020 as Sweden came from behind to emerge 2-1 victors at the Friends Arena and take control of Group B in World Cup qualifying. 

The two sides drew 0-0 during Euro 2020 but in front of a vibrant home support, Sweden were far more of a threat going forward this time, with star duo Dejan Kulusevski and Alexander Isak playing decisive roles. 

Isak got the swift equaliser after Carlos Soler netted a debut goal early on in a largely enjoyable but undramatic first half. 

The second period was considerably more exhilarating, and it was fine work by Kulusevski that created Viktor Claesson's winner, which leaves Sweden top of the group with nine points, two clear of Spain who have also played a game more. 

Soler's international career was less than four minutes old when he turned in Jordi Alba's pinpoint delivery at the end of a flowing move, but their lead lasted only 63 seconds. 

An error by Soler in the Spain midfield allowed Isak to seize possession and he clinically found the bottom-right corner from 20 yards. 

Spain predictably dominated possession but did not create any other clear-cut chances before the break, while at the other end they needed Unai Simon alert as he blocked Kulusevski's effort from a tight angle in the 36th minute. 

Sweden had a lucky escape just after the restart, Robin Olsen saving from point-blank range when Filip Helander diverted a Cesar Azpilicueta cross towards his own goal. 

They soon made the most of that let-off by going 2-1 up. 

Kulusevski beat Eric Garcia on the left and pulled a wonderful pass back to the centre of the box for Claesson, whose disguised finish found the bottom-left corner. 

Spain piled the pressure on in the final stages, substitute Adama Traore particularly lively on the right, but ultimately Sweden held on for a deserved victory. 

Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara has been left out of Spain's squad for their triple-header of September fixtures.

Thiago made four substitute appearances for Spain in their run to the semi-finals of the European Championship finals, but the 30-year-old – who has just nine minutes of Premier League action under his belt this term – has been overlooked for selection.

Pedri is another notable absentee from Luis Enrique's 24-man squad, though that was expected as the Barcelona midfielder has been given a rest following his participation at Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics.

Dani Olmo, Mikel Oyarzabal and Pau Torres, three other members of Spain's Olympic contingent, will also be given a breather over the first international break of the season.

Fabian Ruiz and Diego Llorente, of Napoli and Leeds United respectively, are the others to have dropped out of Spain's squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Sweden, Georgia and Kosovo over the next fortnight.

Like at Euro 2020, Luis Enrique has decided against calling up any Real Madrid players, meaning no place in the squad for Dani Carvajal, Marco Asensio and Nacho Fernandez.

Abel Ruiz, Brais Mendez, Pablo Fornals, Mikel Merino and Carlos Soler have all been called up, while Inigo Martinez and Raul Albiol are also included.

La Roja have won two and drawn one of their first three qualifiers and lead the way at the top of Group B ahead of their upcoming trio of matches.

 

Spain squad in full:

David de Gea, Robert Sanchez; Unai Simon; Aymeric Laporte, Cesar Azpilicueta, Eric Garcia, Inigo Martinez, Jordi Alba, Jose Gaya, Raul Albiol; Brais Mendez, Carlos Soler, Koke, Marcos Llorente, Mikel Merino, Pablo Sarabia, Rodri, Sergio Busquets; Abel Ruiz, Adama Traore, Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres, Gerard Moreno, Pablo Fornals

Barcelona forward Ansu Fati has returned to training with the LaLiga club's first-team squad following a lengthy lay-off through injury.

The 18-year-old missed the second half of last season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee in November 2020.

Fati sustained the injury during Barcelona’s 5-2 victory over Real Betis at Camp Nou, and has subsequently undergone three operations.

However, the Spain international is closing in on a return to action after he was photographed back on the training pitches at Barcelona's Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training ground on Tuesday.

Although he will not be available for this weekend’s LaLiga showdown with Getafe, Fati could be in contention for Barcelona's trip to Sevilla on September 11.

The forward became the youngest goalscorer in Barca's history when he scored against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days.

Fati has since added a further 12 goals in 42 appearances across all competitions for the Blaugrana, who he joined at the age of 10.

The Guinea-Bissau-born youngster has been capped four times by Spain, and scored his first international goal against Ukraine in September 2020.  

Pedri has belatedly been given a break from Barcelona duty after featuring in their first two matches of the 2021-22 season.

The Spain midfielder posted a picture from his aeroplane to social media as he headed back to his home in Tenerife.

Barca shared the image with the caption, "deserved vacation".

Pedri will not play for the Blaugrana against Getafe next Sunday, while it remains to be seen if he will be called up by Luis Enrique for the subsequent international break.

The 18-year-old would return to Catalonia in time for Barca's LaLiga clash with Sevilla on September 12.

Pedri had played only a single season with Las Palmas before linking up with Ronald Koeman's Barca at the start of the 2020-21 campaign, but he quickly became a key man.

Since his debut last September, only Bruno Fernandes and Manu Trigueros (both 56) have appeared in more club games across all competitions than Pedri (54, tied with Marcus Rashford) among players in Europe's top five leagues.

But Pedri has also turned out 10 times for the senior Spain team in that period, including in all six matches in their run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals.

And there were a further six appearances at the Tokyo Olympics as the teenager helped Spain take silver.

Having started his 2020-21 season in the Spain Under-21 team on September 3, 2020 – with four games at that level – Pedri has played 74 matches for club and country in less than a year.

Koeman was asked about Pedri's impending departure following Saturday's 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao, in which he was substituted after 62 minutes.

"It's better to give him a break now, so as not to have problems in the month of November," the coach explained.

Dani Alves says winning Olympic gold is his greatest achievement in football after Brazil overcame Spain to reign at the Games once again.

Brazil secured back-to-back golds on Saturday, following on from their Rio 2016 triumph with a 2-1 victory after extra time.

Mikel Oyarzabal levelled to bring Spain back into the game after Matheus Cunha's opener but Malcolm came off the bench to capture Olympic glory.

Alves, a three-time Champions League winner who also has six LaLiga titles on his resume, proclaimed Tokyo to be his greatest success in football.

"To be sincere, yes," the 38-year-old responded when asked if this was his greatest prize. "Because the others are every year, and I have competed time and time again, but with this medal, this is my last chance. I won’t make it to Paris.

"This means a lot for me. Everybody trusted in me, and I knew this would be a once-only opportunity, to be able to enjoy this dream. It’s not every day that you become an Olympic athlete, and even less at the age of 38.

"And so I came here like everybody else, as a virgin, to this competition. I came with the boys to live the dream with them. And we have managed it, after a lot of effort and sacrifice, and we are taking the biggest prize back home, back to our people."

Captain Alves and his team-mates were reduced to tears at the full-time whistle as Brazil came out on top in a record-breaking fifth final appearance.

The last trophy missing from his illustrious collection of honours is the World Cup, so could he keep on going for his country?

"I’m a dreamer, a small dreamer, and more than a dreamer, somebody who executes their dreams," he said in response to questions about Qatar 2022.

"The most important thing is to fight, and that’s what I know what to do. I have the drive of a 23-year-old.

"I still want to do big things in football, and have respect for the profession, because when you have respect for your profession, it brings you great things, and which is what I'm living."

Malcom came off the bench to claim gold for Brazil, who beat Spain 2-1 after extra time to defend their Olympic crown.

Mikel Oyarzabal's stunning effort cancelled out Matheus Cunha's opener to force extra time at the International Stadium Yokohama.

There was plenty of drama before normal time was up – Richarlison blazing a penalty over just prior to Cunha's opener before the Everton forward hit the crossbar in the second half, with Oscar Gil and Bryan Gil also hitting the woodwork at the other end.

Yet it was substitute Malcom who ultimately proved decisive, the Zenit winger getting the better of Jesus Vallejo to prod home beyond Unai Simon and seal back-to-back gold medals for Brazil.

Diego Carlos had to clear off the line to prevent an embarrassing own goal in the 16th minute, before Richarlison sliced into the side netting from a tight angle.

The tournament's leading scorer Richarlison should have added to his tally in the 38th minute, after Spain goalkeeper Simon was adjudged to have fouled Cunha on a VAR check, but he lashed his spot-kick well over.

Brazil swiftly recovered, though – Dani Alves doing brilliantly to keep a move alive, with Cunha bringing down the looping ball and arrowing a finish into the bottom-right corner.

Simon redeemed himself with a fine save from Richarlison after the break, parrying the forward's effort onto the underside of the crossbar, and Oyarzabal's wonderful 61st-minute strike subsequently restored parity. 

The woodwork came to Brazil's salvation late on in normal time, Gil's right-wing centre clipping off the bar before Bryan's thunderous effort rattled off the frame of the goal.

Brazil made their fortune count in the 18th minute of extra time, Malcom's turn of pace proving too much for Vallejo, who could only watch on as the former Barcelona man secured their second Olympic gold.

Alves and Co. were in tears at full-time, collapsing on the pitch as Brazil became the fourth team to win successive gold medals in the men's football event, in what was a record-setting fifth final.

Contesting their third Olympic final, Spain – champions in 1992 – had to settle for silver, the medal they won back in 2000.

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