LONDON – If Spain have at times been too predictable during their successful World Cup qualification campaign, the holders proved they can adapt when necessary in Tuesday's 2-0 win at home to Georgia in Albacete.
As expected, Georgia opted for the ultra-defensive tactics the majority of Spain's opponents fall back on but coach Vicente Del Bosque's decision to add width and pace to his formation from the start paid off handsomely.
With Jesus Navas on the right wing and Pedro on the left, backed up by attack-minded fullbacks Juanfran and Alberto Moreno, Spain looked much more dangerous than in some of their previous Group I displays.
Del Bosque has often foregone a traditional striker and used midfielder Cesc Fabregas as a "false nine" and while it has generally been effective the world and European champions have sometimes looked sluggish going forward.
But with the tall and powerful Alvaro Negredo causing havoc in the Georgia defence, and the wide players providing excellent service, there was much more zip to the Spanish forward forays.
Negredo, in particular, has shone in Spain's recent outings and as well as grabbing the opener and hitting a post on Tuesday he also scored in Friday's 2-1 home win over Belarus.
He almost scored a spectacular overhead kick against the Georgians in the 20th minute but was denied by a brilliant save from goalkeeper Roin Kvaskhvadze.
There is stiff competition for the striker's role with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Roberto Soldado and Michu in the frame, but Negredo has improved his chances of making the position his own for the finals in Brazil next year.
Unbeaten Spain never looked in real danger against the lesser teams in their group and responded when it counted with a 1-0 win against France in Paris in March that effectively secured top spot ahead of their northern neighbours.
Spain will go into next year's competition on a high as they bid to become only the third nation to defend their world title after Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962.
"It wasn't easy," Del Bosque said of Spain's qualification campaign after the victory in Albacete.
"We had problems against the smaller teams and first place in the group was on the line against a powerful France but we knew how to respond.
"We qualified with austerity and moderation but we know how important it is."
By the time the finals come around, Del Bosque may have yet another option for the striker's position in Atletico Madrid's Brazil-born forward Diego Costa.
Costa, who has dual Spanish and Brazilian nationality and has played almost his entire career in Spain, has been in sparkling form in La Liga this season and has indicated he would like to play for his adopted country once the necessary paperwork is completed.
He may struggle to oust Negredo, however, and Del Bosque said he believed the Manchester City player still has plenty of room to improve.
"He is a forward who plays below what he is capable of," the coach told a news conference. "He still hasn't discovered his true potential." – Reuters