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Shock draw dents Spain's World Cup qualification hopes

updated 8:16 PM EDT, Fri March 22, 2013
Spain's players show their disappointment after conceding a late equalizer at home to Finland in a World Cup qualifier in Gijon.
Spain's players show their disappointment after conceding a late equalizer at home to Finland in a World Cup qualifier in Gijon.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Spain battling to automatically qualify for 2014 World Cup after Finland draw
  • Trip to Paris could prove vital as France move two points clear in Group I
  • Croatia wins grudge match against Serbia to boost qualification hopes
  • Germany and the Netherlands remain unbeaten at top of respective groups

(CNN) -- Finland ruined Sergio Ramos' 100th appearance for Spain on Friday as the planet's 87th-ranked team held the No. 1 side and defending World Cup champion in a qualifier for next year's tournament in Brazil.

Real Madrid defender Ramos became the eighth player from his country to reach the milestone, and duly put his side ahead with a header from a corner four minutes into the second half in Gijon.

Finland's dogged defending had frustrated Spain's intricate passing game, and the visiting side scored a shock equalizer in the 79th minute as Teemu Pukki got behind the defense to slot in Alexander Ring's low cross.

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The draw extended Spain's unbeaten run to 19 matches, but left Vicente del Bosque's team second in Group I behind France ahead of Tuesday's trip to Paris.

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Only the top nation will automatically qualify from the five-side group, with the runner-up hoping to go into the playoffs.

"We controlled the match but it slipped away in the final minutes," Ramos told reporters.

"Doubtless we were thinking too much about France -- now we really do have to think about that one. They are a great team, but we can beat them."

The French won 3-1 at home to third-placed Georgia to go two points clear of Spain after four matches, with goals from striker Olivier Giroud and midfielders Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery.

The Finns remained bottom, with two points from three games.

In Group A, Croatia all but ended the qualification hopes of neighbor Serbia with a 2-0 victory in the first clash between the two teams since they became independent nations after the war that split Yugoslavia.

With away fans banned in Zagreb due to ongoing tensions, Mario Mandzukic took advantage of a mistake by Aleksandar Kolarov to score the opening goal and fellow striker Ivica Olic sealed Croatia's fourth win in five matches.

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It put the Croats second on goal difference behind Belgium, while Wales moved above Serbia into third place with a 2-1 win over Scotland.

Belgium won 2-0 away to Macedonia, with Eden Hazard's second-half penalty adding to Kevin De Bruyne's opener.

Bulgaria consolidated second place in Group B with a 6-0 thrashing of Malta, as Aleksandar Tonev scored a hat-trick, while Denmark won 3-0 away to the Czech Republic to claim third place on goal difference -- but four points adrift of a possible playoff spot.

Germany moved five points clear at the top of Group C with a 3-0 win over Kazakhstan, while second-placed Sweden drew 0-0 at home to the Republic of Ireland.

Austria moved above the Irish into third on goal difference after thrashing bottom side the Faroe Islands 6-0.

The Netherlands marched to a fifth successive win in Group D, beating Estonia 3-0.

Hungary remained second on goal difference above Romania after conceding a late equalizer in their 2-2 draw -- a result which left both nations five points behind the Dutch.

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Turkey beat bottom side Andorra to be four points further back in fourth place.

Switzerland stayed top in Group E without kicking a ball, as Albania moved up to second on goal difference above Iceland after their respective one-goal wins away to Norway and Slovenia.

Portugal's hopes of automatic qualification from Group F suffered a big blow as Cristiano Ronaldo's team needed late goals from Helder Postiga and Fabio Coentrao to draw 3-3 in Israel.

The result left Israel second above the Portuguese on goal difference, with both teams four points adrift of Russia -- whose match in Northern Ireland was postponed until Saturday due to heavy snow.

Bosnia-Herzegovina moved three points clear of Greece at the top of Group G after winning 3-1 against the previously undefeated 2004 European champions, with two goals from striker Edin Dzeko.

Third-placed Slovakia's hopes of a second successive World Cup appearance were dented by a 1-1 draw with Lithuania.

Montenegro and England set up a crunch Group H clash on Tuesday after contrasting wins.

A 1-0 victory in Moldova put Montenegro two points clear at the top, as both teams had a player sent off and striker Mirko Vucinic netted the only goal in the 79th minute.

England thrashed San Marino 8-0 as striker Jermain Defoe scored twice, while Ukraine moved up to third on goal difference above Poland with a 3-1 away victory in a match between the Euro 2012 host nations.

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