Luis Enrique is in no doubt Spain can compete with the very best in the world after watching his side cruise past the Czech Republic 2-0 in the Nations League on Sunday.

Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia were on target in each half as La Roja moved top of Group A2 following Portugal's 1-0 defeat to Switzerland.

The win, which stretched Spain's unbeaten run to eight games, means their progress to the Nations League finals could be sealed before their final group game against Portugal.

Should they beat Switzerland in their penultimate game and Portugal lose to the Czech Republic, Spain will seal their place in the tournament.

Luis Enrique was pleased with his side's display at La Rosaleda in Malaga, yet acknowledged there is room for improvement.

"I am very satisfied, how can I not be?" he said in a media conference.

"The rival has shown how good they are, in all aspects. We have been quite good, although we lacked some things.

"The atmosphere was wonderful, with lots of cheering and respect for the anthem of the rival. I hope it repeats itself and serves as an example.

"We are leaders and we have been good in general. Ask the rivals what they feel when playing with us. Surely we will compete [against anyone]."

Marco Asensio was particularly bright for Spain, teeing up Soler's goal to move level with Jordi Alba as the joint-highest goal creator under Luis Enrique's leadership (seven assists).

He played more key passes (three) than any other player on the pitch, and Luis Enrique says the fact he is not a regular starter at Real Madrid is not an issue.

"I always called him up when I saw him doing well," he said. "Now he has been playing less. We like him and he knows it. There are no doubts with him."

Unai Simon made important saves from Vaclav Cerny and Jan Kuchta before Soler's opener, with Luis Enrique pleased at his goalkeeper's decisiveness. 

"He chose well in decision-making," he added. "He gives us a lot with the ball in aerial aspects. He has been good.

"It gives me a lot of peace of mind, and I am the one who makes decisions. He has saved us and that's what the goalkeeper is for."

Spain made it back-to-back wins to go top of Nations League Group A2 as goals from Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia sealed a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Luis Enrique's side edged past Switzerland on Thursday after opening their campaign with two draws, and they racked up another win at La Rosaleda in Malaga. 

Valencia midfielder Soler scored the opening goal shortly after the midway point in the first half – his third strike at international level.

And substitute Sarabia made sure of all three points in the 75th minute as La Roja usurped Portugal, who lost 1-0 in Switzerland, at the top of the group. 

Unai Simon denied Vaclav Cerny and Jan Kuchta inside the opening 20 minutes as the visitors started brightly.

Yet Spain went ahead with their first attempt on goal in the 24th minute, Soler drilling past Ales Mandous from eight yards after running onto Marco Asensio's pull-back.

Soler then clipped wide soon after as Spain fell short of doubling their advantage before the interval.

Simon pushed away a long-range drive from Alex Kral midway through a tepid second half as both sides struggled to build any momentum. 

That was until Sarabia followed up his winner against Switzerland with another goal three minutes after being introduced for Asensio, the attacking midfielder nudging home from Ferran Torres' low cross to wrap up maximum points.

 

What does it mean? Victory moves Spain to group summit

After a sluggish start to their Nations League campaign, Spain are well and truly up and running now.

A second consecutive win moved them onto eight points, one ahead of Portugal. The Czech Republic, meanwhile, remain in third with four points from their opening four games.

Asensio shines

Asensio's pass for Soler's goal means no player has provided more assists for Spain under Luis Enrique's leadership (seven, level with Jordi Alba). He was Spain's biggest threat here, playing more key passes (three) than any other player on the pitch.

Morata goes missing

Alvaro Morata endured a game to forget up front for the hosts. The 29-year-old failed to have a single shot or play a key pass before he was hauled off for Torres in the 59th minute.

What's next?

Both sides complete their Group A2 campaigns in September. Spain are at home to Switzerland before visiting Portugal, while the Czech Republic host Portugal and then travel to Switzerland.

Spain made it back-to-back wins to go top of Nations League Group A2 as goals from Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia sealed a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic on Sunday.

Luis Enrique's side edged past Switzerland on Thursday after opening their campaign with two draws, and they racked up another win at La Rosaleda in Malaga. 

Valencia midfielder Soler scored the opening goal shortly after the midway point in the first half – his third strike at international level.

And substitute Sarabia made sure of all three points in the 75th minute as La Roja usurped Portugal, who lost 1-0 in Switzerland, at the top of the group. 

Unai Simon denied Vaclav Cerny and Jan Kuchta inside the opening 20 minutes as the visitors started brightly.

Yet Spain went ahead with their first attempt on goal in the 24th minute, Soler drilling past Ales Mandous from eight yards after running onto Marco Asensio's pull-back.

Soler then clipped wide soon after as Spain fell short of doubling their advantage before the interval.

Simon pushed away a long-range drive from Alex Kral midway through a tepid second half as both sides struggled to build any momentum. 

That was until Sarabia followed up his winner against Switzerland with another goal three minutes after being introduced for Asensio, the attacking midfielder nudging home from Ferran Torres' low cross to wrap up maximum points.

Jordi Alba implored Barcelona to come together and be "more united than ever" as the LaLiga giants battle financial difficulties.

Xavi and Blaugrana president Joan Laporta are looking to strengthen in the transfer window after finishing second in the league, some 13 points behind champions Real Madrid.

Robert Lewandowski has emerged as the main target from Bayern Munich, but doubts persist as to whether Barca can afford the Poland talisman, who has made his desire to move to Camp Nou clear.

LaLiga chief Javier Tebas suggested Barca must sell their prized assets, such as Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United, to afford Lewandowski.

Laporta hit back by insisting Tebas was intending to "harm" Barca's interests, but Blaugrana economic vice-president Eduard Romeu acknowledged sales were needed to help ease the club's worries.

Alba, speaking before Spain's Nations League clash with Czech Republic on Sunday, admitted he would like more signings but understands the situation his side is in.

"It's the situation we're in. It's not always going to be rosy. Barca would like to be in a better economic situation," he told reporters.

"We're going to go out and if we can't sign we'll have to pull from the academy, where there are very good players.

"It's the idea that the club has and I can't say more. I'd like to sign many players, but the situation is this. We have to be more united than ever, say it all behind closed doors and that's it."

Alba, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets were named as the joint captains of Barca when Lionel Messi left amid financial struggles at the start of the 2021-22 season.

On Friday, Roberto became the fourth of the captains to agree a new contract with Barca, with the other three all reportedly taking a significant drop in wages to ease the financial burden.

While Alba was delighted to see Roberto extend his stay with Xavi's team, the left-back assured the captains are committed to the project.

"There should be no doubt of our commitment to the club. I can't control what is said in the press or outside our reach, nor do I want to," Alba added. 

"The needs of the club are what they are and we will be here to help. The four captains will help and I'm sure some more. We have always been committed to the club and we will continue to be.

"It's been a difficult year at club level but I'm convinced that next year will be much better."

Luis Enrique cited the struggles of France in the Nations League as debates continue as to the strength of Spain's World Cup credentials.

Spain play their final Nations League fixture of this window on Sunday, at home to Czech Republic, having picked up just five points from three games.

A pair of draws with Portugal and Czech Republic preceded a narrow 1-0 victory over strugglers Switzerland.

Luis Enrique defended his team selection and knowledge of football after the latter win, and the Spain coach again went on the front foot when asked about what La Roja's Nations League term meant for Qatar 2022.

"It's not about what I understand or don't understand. It's about looking at things with perspective. Nobody is interested in the other results of Group A," he told reporters. 

"If someone expects us to win every game then they do not know what modern football is.

"Look at the struggles of France, champion of the world and Nations League – we are not different. But we are a great team that can beat any rival, that's for sure."

As for who is the favourite for the World Cup, Luis Enrique finds it hard to look past two South American giants.

"I see Argentina above the rest and Brazil too, well above the rest," he added.

Alvaro Morata also came in for special praise from Luis Enrique, who believes the striker is the best defensive forward on the continent.

"All wingers can play as a nine. The strikers that I have brought not all of them can play as a winger," he continued.

"Morata can. I am not going to compare players but on a defensive level, no one beats Morata in Europe. He has an intelligence when it comes to pressing and physical conditions beyond any doubt.

"Then on top of that with the ball he has been very good, he has given us superiority. We want those who participate to know that they have an offensive side and another clear defensive one.

"With us if they don't do the defensive work, we can't be compact."

Portugal moved two points clear at the top of Nations League Group A2 with a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic in Lisbon on Thursday.

The two sides entered the contest at Estadio Jose Alvalade level on four points apiece after two rounds of fixtures, and it was Portugal who took control at the summit.

Joao Cancelo blasted the home side in front from a tight angle and Goncalo Guedes added a second before half-time, with both goals assisted by Bernardo Silva.

The Czech Republic were unable to find a route back into the contest as they were leapfrogged by Spain – 1-0 winners over Switzerland – in second place.

Portugal had to see out a spell of early pressure, with Michal Sadilek volleying over from a good position, before taking a 33rd-minute lead.

Cancelo, who rounded off the scoring in Portugal's 4-0 win over Switzerland last weekend, took a pass from Silva in his stride and fired past Jindrich Stanek into the far corner.

Silva played in Guedes for Portugal's second, the Valencia winger picking his spot beyond Stanek to leave the Czech Republic with a mountain to climb with 38 minutes played.

Diogo Jota was denied by Stanek as Portugal attempted to extend their lead further and Guedes had a strong penalty appeal rejected when challenged by Sadilek in the box.

Cristiano Ronaldo was also thwarted by the opposition keeper, while Adam Vlkanova missed a big chance at the other end after a mix-up, but Portugal comfortably saw out the win.

Luis Enrique acknowledged Spain have "many things to improve" on after La Roja were fortunate to draw against the Czech Republic.

Gavi, aged 17 years and 304 days, became the youngest ever player to score for Spain as he curled in to cancel out Jakub Pesek's fourth-minute opener in Prague.

The Barcelona midfielder's strike also meant Spain have scored in 16 straight games in all competitions, only twice achieving such longer streaks in history.

Jan Kutcha then again edged Czech Republic ahead in the Nations League encounter as he chipped over the onrushing Unai Simon in the second half.

But there was to be late drama as Inigo Martinez's 90th-minute header snatched a point for Spain, who sit two points behind Group A2 joint-leaders Czech Republic and Portugal after two games.

With just one team progressing to the Nations League finals, Luis Enrique was glad to pick up a point but urged his side to improve.

Asked whether the stalemate would keep the critics quiet, the Spain coach told reporters: "Noise is the most beautiful thing in the world of football. I know what I play, I know where I'm going. 

"There are many things to improve. But the best thing about drawing is that the rival does not add three points.

"The important thing is that the rival does not escape us."

Luis Enrique was also quick to heap praise on teenage star Gavi after yet another fine performance in midfield.

"I know Gavi very well, I've been watching videos for five years of him. If there was any player who we wanted in that position in the first half, it was him," he added. 

"Either he shoots or he gets into the area, and that conviction is unstoppable."

Inigo Martinez scored a late equaliser as Spain salvaged a 2-2 draw in the Nations League with the Czech Republic.

Luis Enrique vowed to rotate after Spain's opening Group A2 stalemate with Portugal and made eight changes in Prague, where Jakub Pesek struck after just four minutes.

Kuchta nudged Jaroslav Silhavy's side ahead again in the second half after Gavi's first-half equaliser, before Martinez popped up in the 90th minute to snatch a point.

The stalemate left Spain three points Group A2 joint-leaders Czech Republic and Portugal, who eased past Switzerland on Sunday.

2011 100m World champion Yohan Blake ran a season’s best 10.05 for second in the Men’s 100m at the Ostrava Golden Spike, at the Municipal Stadium, in the Czech Republic, on Tuesday.

The race was won by Great Britain’s Reece Prescod in a personal best 9.93 while fellow British teammate and former Kingston College sprinter Zharnel Hughes was third in the same time as Blake.

Jamaican Tokoyo Olympic finalist Candice McLeod ran a season’s best 50.38 for second in the Women’s 400m behind Poland’s Natalia Kaczmarek who ran a personal best 50.16. Another Polish athlete, Anna Kielbasinska, was third in 50.38, equaling her own personal best.

Puerto Rican Olympic champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn sped to 12.56 for victory in the Women’s 100m hurdles ahead of Poland’s Pia Skrzyszwoska who ran a personal best 12.65 and the USA’s Nia Ali (12.69).

It was a Caribbean 1-2 in the Men’s Javelin as Grenadian 2019 World Champion Anderson Peters continued his fine form this season with a throw of 87.88m to win ahead of Trinidadian 2012 Olympic Champion Keshorn Walcott (84.77m). Germany’s Julian Weber was third with 83.92m.

Cuba’s Maykel Masso won the Men’s Long Jump with 8.14m ahead of the Czech Republic’s Radek Juska (8.11m) and France’s Augustin Bey (8.00m).

Gareth Bale scored a pair of stunning goals to secure a home World Cup play-off final for Wales against either Scotland or Ukraine.

Wales have not qualified for a World Cup since 1958 and surely will not get a better opportunity than ahead of Qatar 2022.

Rob Page's side hosted Austria in their play-off semi-final on Thursday and once again relied on Real Madrid superstar Bale to prove the difference in a 2-1 win.

He netted the opener with a sublime first-half free-kick, then doubled Wales' lead with another brilliant effort, placed high past the Austria goalkeeper.

Only a Ben Davies own goal – deflecting Marcel Sabitzer's shot beyond Wayne Hennessey – threatened to spoil the Welsh party, as they held on despite Bale's withdrawal in stoppage time with an apparent groin injury.

Bale will at least have time to recover from that issue before the final, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine saw the former banned from FIFA competitions and the latter allowed to postpone their semi against Scotland.

No date has yet been set for the Scotland tie, with Steve Clarke's men instead facing Poland – Russia's planned play-off opponents – in a friendly they drew 1-1 on Thursday.

Krzysztof Piatek's 94th-minute penalty rescued a draw for Poland, albeit that goal came earlier than Sweden's decisive strike against Czech Republic.

Sweden will be Poland's final opponents after Robin Quaison finished off a smart team move with 10 minutes remaining in extra time following a goalless draw – that 1-0 victory teeing up the trip to Chorzow on Tuesday.

The Czech Republic national team have had to postpone their departure for Sweden, throwing preparations for their World Cup qualification play-off into disarray.

Due to technical faults with the plane on which they were supposed to depart, Jaroslav Silhavy's side has been delayed for 24 hours, meaning they will have to arrive only on the day before their critical play-off in Solna.

A statement read: "The Czech national team has to change the program. We can’t travel to Sweden due to a technical defect on the plane today and we will move to Sweden during Wednesday."

Originally scheduled to leave following their Tuesday morning training session for acclimatisation and rest, this complication compounds the fact they will be without injured stars Patrik Schick and Vladimir Coufal.

The winner of Thursday's playoff is set to face Poland next Tuesday, to secure a berth in Qatar.

Poland have been awarded a bye through to the World Cup qualifying play-off final following the postponement of their clash with Russia.

FIFA confirmed the news on Tuesday, though Russia have indicated that they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a ban on its national teams from competing.

Should the decision be upheld, Poland will face either Sweden or the Czech Republic – with that semi-final on March 24 still set to go ahead – for a place at Qatar 2022.

That 'Path B' final will be held at the Silesian Stadium in Chorzow on March 29.

FIFA's decision comes on the back of Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic announcing last week they would each refuse to play Russia due to ongoing events in Ukraine.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday 24 following weeks of rising political tensions in the region, with more than two million citizens fleeing the country.

Meanwhile, FIFA has also confirmed that Ukraine's 'Path A' semi-final with Scotland at Hampden Park, scheduled for March 24, will now take place in June.

Ukraine requested that the game be pushed back due to "the impossibility of organising both the travel and training of a team under the current circumstances".

The other semi-final in that side of the draw, the clash between Wales and Austria in Cardiff on the same day, will go ahead as planned.

However, the final will be postponed until after the Scotland and Ukraine game is played.

The Czech Republic have joined Poland and Sweden in refusing to play Russia ahead of next month's UEFA World Cup qualifying play-offs.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, following weeks of rising political tensions in the region. The conflict escalated further on Friday, with the fighting reaching the capital city of Kyiv. There was intense fighting in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, on Sunday.

It was confirmed by Poland's Football Association on Saturday that they would refuse to play their scheduled 'Path B' play-off semi-final against Russia.

Russia had been set to host Poland in March, but on Friday, UEFA said any international matches due to be held in Russia or Ukraine would have to be moved to a neutral venue, as well as confirming St Petersburg had been stripped of holding this season's Champions League final, which will now be played in Paris.

That followed a request from the Polish, Swedish and Czech FAs that Russia be barred from hosting any upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The winner of the tie between Poland and Russia would have been due to play either Sweden or the Czech Republic for a place at Qatar 2022.

Despite UEFA's declaration, the power to decide where the qualifiers are played and whether Russia can remain a part of them ultimately rests with world governing body FIFA.

Announcing their boycott, Polish FA president Cezary Kulesza said the three national associations were working to find a "common position" and that has now been achieved. The Swedish FA said on Saturday it was not possible to play Russia "regardless of where the match is played" and on Sunday the Czech FA took the same stance.

A statement posted on Twitter read: "The Czech FA executive committee, staff members and players of the national team agreed it's not possible to play against the Russian national team in the current situation, not even on the neutral venue. We all want the war to end as soon as possible."

Football's world governing body FIFA previously said in a statement that it "condemns the use of force by Russia in Ukraine and any type of violence to resolve conflicts. Violence is never a solution and FIFA calls on all parties to restore peace through constructive dialogue".

It added: "FIFA also continues to express its solidarity to the people affected by this conflict.

"Regarding football matters in both Ukraine and Russia, FIFA will continue to monitor the situation and updates in relation to the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers will be communicated in due course."

Roberto Mancini admitted Italy would rather not have to do battle with Portugal for a place in the 2022 World Cup if they get past North Macedonia.

The European champions were on Friday drawn to face North Macedonia in a semi-final next March after missing out on automatic qualification for the tournament in Qatar.

Italy will come up against either Portugal or Turkey in a decisive showdown if they avoid a semi-final upset.

Euro 2016 champions Portugal were consigned to a play-off spot in dramatic fashion as Aleksandar Mitrovic's last-gasp strike saw Serbia through as Group A winners.

Italy boss Mancini is confident his side will qualify, but gave an honest reaction to the prospect of trying to deny Cristiano Ronaldo what could be his last trip to a World Cup.

He said: "We are always confident and positive. Macedonia had a good qualifying group, we will have to play a great match. Then we will see what happens in the final.

Asked about the prospect of coming up against Portugal, he said: "We would have liked to avoid them, in the same way Portugal would have gladly avoided Italy."

The draw also threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine.

Russia will host Poland, with the winners playing either Sweden or the Czech Republic. 

Italy or Portugal will miss out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after the two most recent European champions were drawn in the same play-off path.

Roberto Mancini led Italy to a Euro 2020 triumph earlier this year, yet the Azzurri failed to qualify automatically for next year's World Cup, with Switzerland progressing instead.

Portugal, Euro 2016 winners, also fell short, finishing three points behind Serbia in Group A.

And now one of the heavyweights will fail to appear in Qatar, with both teams drawn together in Path C of the play-offs, which will take place in March.

Italy were drawn in a semi-final against minnows North Macedonia, who are aiming to make their first appearance at a World Cup, while Portugal will face Turkey.

Should they progress, Portugal will have home advantage in the Path C final to determine which team progresses to Qatar. While Cristiano Ronaldo could well be fighting to play in his final World Cup, the Azzurri will be aiming to avoid missing out on the tournament for a second successive time.

Path A threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine, who went unbeaten in a qualifying group that also included reigning world champions France, respectively.

In Path B, Russia will host Poland and Sweden will play the Czech Republic. 

The winner of Russia v Poland will host the Path B final.

Play-offs draw in full

Path A

SF1 – Scotland v Ukraine

SF2 – Wales v Austria

F1 – Winner SF2 v Winner SF1

Path B

SF3 – Russia v Poland

SF4 – Sweden v Czech Republic

F2 – Winner SF3 v Winner SF4

Path C

SF5 – Italy v North Macedonia

SF6 – Portugal v Turkey

F3 – Winner SF6 v Winner SF5

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