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Spain ease to top place in group

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June 23, 2006 22:06 IST

Spain ensured they went through to the last 16 of the World Cup as winners of Group H when they eased their way to a 1-0 victory over a toothless Saudi Arabia in Kaiserslautern on Friday.

With the luxury of knowing they had already secured a place in the last 16, Spain fielded their second string side against the Saudis, who needed to win to have any chance of making the knockout stages.

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Centre back Juanito scored the winner nine minutes from halftime when he fired a bullet header past keeper Mabrouk Zaid after Jose Antonio Reyes whipped in a free kick from the left.

The victory extended Spain's unbeaten run to 25 games and meant they finished the group stage with a maximum nine points for the second World Cup in a row.

They will meet either Switzerland, South Korea or France in the last 16 in Hanover on Tuesday.

It was a disappointing end to the tournament for Saudi Arabia, who go home with just a point after surrendering the lead to draw 2-2 in their opening match against Tunisia and then imploding to a 4-0 defeat against Ukraine in their second.

The Spain substitutes quickly settled into their usual fluent passing game and although they did little to trouble the Saudi defence in the first quarter of an hour, they warmed to the task as the half wore on.

Live-wire winger Joaquin went close with a dipping shot and midfielder David Albelda had a fierce drive turned past the post by Zaid after a gleaming passing move involving Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas just before the half hour.  

Six minutes later Juanito put Spain into the lead with his header and Reyes went close to extending his side's lead with a sharp volley just before the break.

Coach Luis Aragones replaced captain Raul with David Villa at halftime and gave leading scorer Fernando Torres a run out for the final 20 minutes, but with Spain happy to sit on their lead it was Saudi Arabia who made much of the running in the second period.

Defender Hussein Sulaimani twice forced Santiago Canizares to make sharp saves midway through the half and substitute Nawaf Al Temyat caused problems for the back four with some neat runs into the area.

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