Pedro hat trick inspires Spanish rout
Pedro Rodriguez scored three goals and set up a fourth to give Spain a 4-0 victory at Belarus on Friday, as the world champions notched their 24th straight qualifying match win ahead of their critical clash with France.
Jordi Alba gave Spain a 12th-minute lead as he was allowed to race onto Pedro's back-heel -- despite appearing to be in an offside position -- and round goalkeeper Sergei Veremko before slotting home.
Eight minutes later, Pedro latched onto a lovely pass from David Silva and dinked over the advancing Veremko, and the Tenerife-born player completed his first international treble with two further goals in the final quarter -- first a lob from Xavi's pass after a swift counter-attack and then another neat finish 18 minutes from time.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque had made three changes to the side that started in last month's 1-0 win over Georgia, with Andres Iniesta, Roberto Soldado and the injured Gerard Pique replaced by Santi Cazorla, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas.
However, the changes did little to affect the Spanish rhythm as, in contrast to recent matches in which they have taken their time to unlock the opposing defense, the chances came thick and fast for the visitors early on.
Fabregas was first to threaten, getting on the end of a defense-splitting pass by Silva, but his touch around Veremko took him slightly too wide and Stanislav Dragun recovered to deflect his effort onto the post.
Silva should have then opened the scoring when he was picked out by Xavi's ball over the top but the Manchester City playmaker appeared to think he was in an offside position as he lazily buried the ball into the side-netting.
When the opener did arrive, there was more than a touch of controversy about it. Alba had clearly run beyond the last defender before Pedro redirected Xavi's pass in his Barcelona teammate's direction, but the flag stayed down and the left back ran on to convert his second international goal.
And, before the 20-minute mark, Del Bosque's men had doubled their advantage. Silva timed his pass perfectly for Pedro's run in behind the Belarusian defense and he took one touch to get the ball out of his feet before delicately chipping over Veremko.
Spain continued to dictate the play without feeling the need to desperately search for more goals after the interval but more space eventually started to appear in a tired Belarusian defense in the final quarter and Pedro was quick to capitalize.
He raced onto Xavi's through-ball to brilliantly chip Veremko on 68 minutes and then rounded the goalkeeper and rolled the ball into an empty net when he was fed by Fabregas soon after.
There was nearly time for substitute David Villa to mark his return to competitive international football with a goal as he smacked a shot off the bar with nine minutes remaining, but for once Pedro could not put the rebound away as he slotted wide with the goal at his mercy.
The victory moved Spain to the top of Group I alongside France. The two teams go head to head in Madrid on Tuesday.
Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.