If Sweden are to accompany Spain to the finals in Austria and Switzerland they now need at least a point against Latvia on Wednesday after Northern Ireland pulled off a 2-1 win against Denmark to keep alive their slim hopes of progressing.
“We still have a good chance of qualifying despite the defeat but we should have clinched it two months ago when we could only draw at home with Denmark,” said Sweden coach Lars Lagerback.
Northern Ireland can qualify for their first major final since the 1982 World Cup if they beat Spain in Las Palmas on Wednesday and the Swedes trip up at home against their opponents from across the Baltic.
Sweden, having never started a game in their history as late as the 10 o’clock at night kick off in Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium, often looking like they were ready for bed rather than thinking about battling Spain.
“No excuses, Spain were the far superior side. The surprise for me was that we conceded a goal from a corner. I think that’s only happened once before in the last two years,” added Lagerback.
Capdevila opened the scoring after 14 minutes. The Villarreal defender managed to stick his right foot out and put the ball past Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson after Cesc Fabregas had laid off a Xavi Hernandez corner.
The goal gave Spain the luxury of being able to build up slowly from the midfield despite the fact that the news soon came through from Belfast that Northern Ireland had gone ahead 10 minutes from the end of their game.
After 30 minutes, the hosts nearly went further ahead when David Villa hit the post from a free kick 20 metres out and Spain eventually added to their tally six minutes before half time thanks to Iniesta.
Once again it was Xavi who started the move which lead to the goal, the Barcelona playmaker finding Capdevila on the left flank and his telling cross lead to Iniesta scoring with a left foot shot from the edge of the area.
Spain started the second half brightly and pinned Sweden down for the first 10 minutes and, despite occasionally relaxing, they were still motivated enough to add a third goal after 65 minutes from Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos.
Ramos scored with a right foot shot from close range after Capdevila, having the game of his life in a Spanish shirt, had his initial effort only partially cleared from the goal mouth by Swedish midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson.
Spain are now on top of Group F with 25 points from 11 games, with Sweden now two points in arrears and Northern Ireland third on 20 points.