Spain books place in quarter finals with draw against Argentina

De la Fuente's side will play against the Ivory Coast in the next round

| AFP

Toni Juanmartí

Spain booked their place in the quarter finals with a draw against Argentina in the final group game. Luis de la Fuente's side just needed a draw to qualify, and Egypt's win against Australia allowed them to go through in top spot.

Mikel Merino opened the scoring for Spain, but a towering header from Argentina's Belmonte late on in the game ensured a nervy last few minutes. They will now play against the Ivory Coast in the quarter finals.

Spain started the game on the front foot, looking to dictate the match from the first whistle. They quickly found the formula to create danger in the Argentina defence, but goalkeeper Jeremías Ledesma managed to keep out Dani Olmo's free kick and save an effort from left back Marc Cucurella.

Argentina had chances of their own early in the game, with Unai Simón called into action by pushing Ezequiel Barco's effort out for a corner and then saving from Tomás Belmonte. Where Spain's chances came from dictating the play, Argentina's best opportunities came in the form of counter attacks.

Shortly after the half-hour mark, Oyarzabal missed two good opportunities for Spain. First, the Real Sociedad forward opted to try a shot from a narrow angle when Mikel Merino was completely free in the middle. Then, straight after, he blazed a Marc Cucurella cut back high into the stands. Spain started to turn the screw as half time approached, but it was the same old story: plenty of the ball but no way to find the breakthrough.

Spain continued to miss chances in the second half. Less than five minutes in, Dani Olmo was on the receiving end of a defence-splitting pass but fired over the bar, before Mikel Oyarzabal missed the target following a rapid attacking transition. Argentina were overwhelmed by the Spanish onslaught, but the scoreboard continued to say the same thing: a solitary Argentina goal would be enough send Luís de la Fuente's side packing.

Spain - and Oyarzabal in particular - kept knocking on the door. Ledesma, however, stood firm, stopping effort after effort from the Real Sociedad forward. Unlike in the first half, the Spanish back line was able to snuff out any Argentina breaks.

Mikel Merino finally opened the scoring after a patient Spanish build up. The ball eventually reached RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo out on the left wing, who was able to pick out Mikel Merino's burst into the box. Merino then finished off the move with a near post finish past Ledesma, putting Spain 1-0 up in the fixture.

Argentina seemed to give up after this goal, as not even a point would be enough to secure qualification. However, they were almost offered a way back into the game in the form of a penalty, but the referee decided not to penalise a possible handball from Mikel Merino. Before that, Asensio saw a fierce drive from the edge of the box tipped round the post by Ledesma.

De la Fuente took off Pedri for the final fifteen minutes, giving the Barça midfielder some much needed rest ahead of the next round.

Belmonte drew Argentina level with a free header from a corner in the 86th minute, but Spain held on to book their place in the knock-out round.

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