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Spain closing in on World Cup qualification

Published on NewsOK Modified: October 14, 2013 at 5:55 am •  Published: October 14, 2013
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MADRID (AP) — World Cup holder Spain hosts Georgia knowing a win or a draw will put it into the 2014 tournament as Group I winners.

The European champions are three points above France, which face Finland, going into the last round of games. A draw will suffice for Spain to finish as group winners, which assures automatic qualification for Brazil. The second-place team must advance through the playoffs.

Here are 5 things to know about Tuesday's match:

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PARKING THE BUS

Few opponents are willing to open up and attack Spain for the risk of being routed, and that has left Spain laboring for victories against ultra-defensive, inferior opponents. For all of its creative playmakers, Spain has struggled to score and Michu's first international appearance against Belarus on Friday failed to provide the spark.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque brought on Alvaro Negredo, who scored the eventual winner in the 2-1 win.

Talk of Brazilian-born, Spanish-nationalized striker Diego Costa joining the squad continues to grow. But Del Bosque expects his players to find solutions on the field, not in the possibilities of what could be.

"We need to take more shots from outside the area, to try and find each other more often, or open up our play through the wings," Del Bosque said.

If Negredo doesn't start, Cesc Fabregas could again be called upon against Georgia as a "false nine," just as he was at last year's European Championship.

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PLAYOFFS AGAIN?

France is vying to reach a fifth straight World Cup, but it will need to thrash Finland and hope Spain loses to stand a chance of winning the group.

The last time France failed to reach the World Cup was in 1994 when, needing a single point from home games against Israel and Bulgaria, it lost both. Current coach Didier Deschamps was the distraught team captain then.

"It must have been horrible. A World Cup without France," France defender Eric Abidal said. "We're all in the same boat, I hope it reaches Brazil."

Because of its mediocre ranking of 25th, France is unlikely to be among the seeded teams when the draw is made. Sweden and Croatia are already assured of reaching the playoffs.

"It does change things because it means you will come up against a big team. We know it will be difficult," the 34-year-old Abidal said.

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FROM BAD TO WORSE

Iker Casillas' relegation to the bench seems to indicate Victor Valdes will be Spain's starting goalkeeper on the road to Brazil.

Valdes has been stellar in what is likely his last season at Barcelona. Casillas, meanwhile, has played only 105 minutes for Real Madrid this season.

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