2016 European Championship Qualifying, Group Stage 2016
  • Tome Pacovski (8' OG)

Juan Mata's goal helps Spain to tight victory at Macedonia

Defending champions Spain edged Macedonia 1-0 in Skopje on Tuesday evening to take another step towards qualification for Euro 2016.

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata helped the visitors take the lead in the eighth minute.

His right-footed shot from outside the area struck the far post and the ball deflected off Macedonia goalkeeper Tome Pacovski into his own net.

Spain were unlucky not to double their lead five minutes before half-time.

Dani Carvajal stunned Pacovski with a right-footed angled shot from outside the area that rattled the far post with Pacovski rooted to the spot.

With Spain failing to extend their advantage despite having chances to do so, Macedonia grew in confidence in the second half and ensured the visitors did not score again but did not get a goal themselves.

The outcome in Skopje has lifted Group C leaders Spain two points clear of Slovakia with two games remaining.

Slovakia hosted Ukraine on Tuesday and were held to a goalless draw.

Macedonia, meanwhile, are bottom of the standings with three points from eight games.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque made six changes to the starting XI that beat Slovakia 2-0 in Oviedo on Saturday.

Manchester United's David De Gea started in goal, playing a game for the first time since featuring for his club in a friendly against Paris Saint-Germain on July 29.

Mata was also included as a starter alongside Arsenal's Santi Cazorla.

Diego Costa was chosen for a second straight game to lead Spain's attack but the Chelsea forward failed to score.

Costa was booked and will miss Spain's next qualifier against Luxembourg next month.

Spain, who beat Macedonia 5-1 in their group opener, dominated the opening exchanges and took an early lead after Pacovski deflected Mata's strike into his own net.

In the 10th minute, Costa surged into the area and his right-footed attempt from 12 yards went wide of the near post.

Six minutes later and the hosts had a good chance to equalise when Stefan Askovski set up Milovan Petrocic in the box but his right-footed shot went over the crossbar.

At the other end, David Silva's goal-bound shot from 15 yards was blocked by a defender.

Costa was booked in the 29th minute after a foul on Vladica Brdarovski.

Spain pressed forward and almost doubled their advantage in the 40th minute when Carvajal's right-footed angled shot from outside the area beat Pacovski but the ball hit the woodwork and stayed out.

Early in the second half, the hosts' Ferhan Hasani's powerful free-kick went over the bar and shortly afterwards, Isco's 30-yard attempt went wide for Spain.

Macedonia showed more aggression after the restart.

Del Bosque brought on Paco Alcacer in place of Costa after the hour but Spain continued to struggle to break Macedonia's defensive line.

With 12 minutes remaining, Sergio Ramos came close but saw his left-footed shot from the heart of the area go wide.

Ramos nevertheless ended up celebrating his 100th win for Spain.

Spain host Luxembourg on October 9 and end their qualifying campaign away to Ukraine three days later.