Slovakia remain second in Group C on 19 points following a 0-0 draw against Ukraine, who are a further three points behind in third spot.
Here, Sports Mole dissects the 90 minutes of action between the two teams.
On target: 0
On target: 1
Was the result fair?
To say that this is not a game that will live long in the memory is putting it mildly. Spain entered the match as the overwhelming favourites not only to win, but win convincingly. It was a professional performance from the visitors, but the manner of the victory will leave the Spanish supporters fairly unhappy. When La Roja took the lead in the eighth minute, it was always going to be difficult for Macedonia to respond, but the hosts not only shut out Spain defensively from that moment forward, they caused problems of their own down the other end. The statistics show that there was only one attempt on target, which is an indication of the type of match that occurred. Spain's goal was fortuitous to say the least, but they did completely control the possession and a narrow away win was probably just about right.
The hosts were without a number of key players for the Group C clash, with the XI that started seriously lacking experience. Vanche Sikov made his 41st appearance for the national team at the back, but the remaining three defenders boasted just nine caps between them. There was also just a second cap for Milovan Petrovikj in midfield, while their central striker, Mirko Ivanovski, only had one goal in 25 appearances prior to kickoff. Stefan Askovski and Marjan Radeski are also in the early stages of their international careers, but the home supporters will have been proud of their team's performance.
It was always going to be the type of match where they needed to start well and when Mata's effort rebounded off Pacovski and into the back of the net, it had been thought that the hosts would crumble. The response was impressive, however, and Macedonia came close to a leveller in the 18th minute through Petrovikj, but his effort was over the crossbar from just outside the box.
It was the home team that also came closest in the early stages of the second period, with Ferhan Hasani's toe-poked free kick just missing the top corner. Hasani was again involved just past the hour following a dangerous cross from the left, but Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique managed to scramble clear. Spain did not have a single chance of note in the second period and while their own performance will be scrutinised, Macedonia must be praised for the role they played. What the hosts lacked in quality and experience, they made up for with pure heart and desire. It was their seventh defeat in eight Group C games and they are indeed still bottom of the group, but their performance was excellent. Qualification for Euro 2016 was never a possibility, but the signs for the future are bright, there is no doubt about that.
It was not too much of a surprise when the teamsheets were handed in and it become apparent that head coach Vicente del Bosque had rung the changes from the Slovakia match. In came David de Gea, Dani Carvajal, Juan Bernat, Santi Cazorla, Isco and Mata, but to be blunt, it was a poor performance from the team in black. Mata was arguably Spain's most creative player in the first period and played a starring role in the only goal of the match, but the likes of Cazorla and Isco flattered to decisive. The same can also be said for Diego Costa, who still only has one international goal for Spain following another disappointing performance. The statistics demonstrate that Spain dominated the possession, but there was never really a period of the match where they threatened to put the game to bed. Indeed, only one of their 12 attempts was on target, which will be a concern for Del Bosque ahead of next summer's tournament.
Spain did come close to scoring a second in the latter stages of the first period when Carvajal aimed a cross towards the far post, but this time it hit the Macedonian crossbar and bounced away, rather than into the back of the net via the goalkeeper. The second period was a non-event in terms of chances for the visitors, however, with their passing in the final third very poor indeed. Paco Alcacer, Koke and Andres Iniesta were all thrown on in the second half, but the tempo did not rise as Spain were more than happy to play out a 1-0 victory. For all the criticism that will be aimed at Spain, it is a vital three points and they are now two points clear of second-place Slovakia with two games remaining. Perhaps more importantly, they are also five points clear of third-place Ukraine, which means their spot at Euro 2016 is pretty much secure. That said, this was not the type of performance that will worry the likes of Germany and France.
Sports Mole's man of the match
Milovan Petrovikj: On just his second international appearance, the Macedonian had a fine game in the middle of the park. The 20-year-old was not fazed by the names on the Spain teamsheet and put himself around for the entirety of the 90 minutes. He might have been on the losing side, but he can be delighted with his night's work.
The biggest gaffe of the match actually decided the outcome. It is perhaps a little harsh to pick out Pachovski for his role in Spain's goal, but the 33-year-old goalkeeper will not want to see the incident too many times. There did not appear much danger when Mata aimed a cross towards the far post, but the Manchester United attacker's effort smashed the woodwork before hitting Pachovski and dropping over the line. It was a very unfortunate goal to concede, but the Vardar stopper should have taken up a better starting position.
Referee Paolo Tagliavento gave a really no-nonsense performance. The Italian was not prepared to entertain any dramatics from either team and was quick on the scene when matters threatened to boil over. The official also went to his pocket on just three occasions as he gave both teams the benefit of the doubt.
Macedonia: Macedonia's penultimate Group C fixture is at home to Ukraine on October 9. They will then round off their qualifying campaign away to Belarus on October 12.
Spain: La Roja would secure a spot at Euro 2016 with victory in their next Group C qualifier at home to Luxembourg on October 9. Three days later, they finish away to Ukraine.