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    Spain edge Georgia 1-0 in World Cup qualifiers

    Cesc Fabregas found Roberto Soldado to slot his pass home to silence the packed Boris Paichadze Stadium.

    Tbilisi: Spain needed 86 minutes to break down Georgia's defense in a 1-0 win on Tuesday as the World Cup champions took the first step to defending their title in 2014 with a 23rd consecutive victory in qualifying.

    Georgia goalkeeper Giorgi Loria kept Spain from converting their overwhelming possession into a goal until he was forced off with a leg injury.

    Substitute Cesc Fabregas then found Roberto Soldado to slot his pass home four minutes from time to silence the packed Boris Paichadze Stadium.

    "It was a hard-fought win against a rival that gave us the ball but pulled back into its area," said Soldado, who was left off Spain's European Championship squad this summer.

    "It was bewildering. It doesn't matter that you have the ball if you can't move."

    The victory gave Spain three points, level in Group I with Georgia.

    Spain deployed the same lineup that routed Italy in the final of this summer's Euro 2012 except for Soldado starting in place of Fabregas. Striker Fernando Torres, meanwhile, never left the bench.

    The game was played almost exclusively in the final third of the pitch in front of Georgia's goal with the hosts failing to create a shot on target in the first half.

    Not surprisingly, Spain owned the ball from the start with Andres Iniesta combining well with David Silva against the world's 86th-ranked team.

    Georgia limited the visitors to Sergio Ramos' header into Loria's arms 10 minutes in and Silva's long strike that came off the upright in the 28th.

    Spain came close to breaking through just before halftime through Xavi Hernandez. The midfielder drew a one-handed save from Loria with a long shot before setting up Soldado, only to see the Georgia goalkeeper better the striker one-on-one.

    Georgia even showed a brief spark of scoring intent at the start of the second half.

    After a rare lost ball by Spain near its area, Aleksander Amisulashvili curled a left-footed shot around Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas that hit the bottom of the post in the 54th.

    "It was a very tough game," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "They closed up at the back and we weren't arriving well to their area.

    "These are three very important points. If we had drawn it would have been a step backward."

    Seeing his team struggle, Del Bosque quickly sent on forward Pedro Rodriguez and playmaker Santi Cazorla to try to recover the initiative.

    Loria had to leave the pitch in the 73rd after suffering an apparent knee injury. He was replaced by Roin Kvaskhvadze in goal.

    As Spain pressed for the elusive winner, Del Bosque ordered on Fabregas for defender Alvaro Arbeloa 10 minutes from time. The midfielder soon keyed Spain's winner when he found Soldado alone in the middle of the area to coolly turn his pass into the net.

    Spain are attempting to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive major title after repeating as European champion this summer.