When Spain meets Finland on Friday in a World Cup qualifier, the biggest issue for Spain might be which team they play next.
With a match looming against France on Tuesday—currently tied with Spain in points but trailing in goal differential—Group 9 will essentially be up for grabs. And seeing as Finland is currently last in the group with only a point, the Spanish side will hardly be expecting a threat from the Fins.
But games are played on the pitch, not on a piece of paper, and thus the Fins stand a chance. That chance may be slimmer than a sheet of paper, but crazier things have happened. Let's break down this World Cup qualifier.
Which team wins?
When: Friday, March 22 at 3:45 p.m. ET
Where: Estadio El Molinon, El Molinon, Spain
Watch: ESPN2; WatchESPN
What They're Saying
It would be easy for Spain to look past Finland. After all, with all respect to the Finnish, its national team isn't exactly a major player on the world stage. And with a matchup against France looming, you can see why Spain might be more focused on Tuesday.
But manager Vicente del Bosque isn't looking past Finland (via Will Jones of Goal.com):
Spain currently leads Group I but is level on points with second-placed France, and Del Bosque has his sights set on securing another victory.
"We have a sound team," the 62-year-old told Marca.
"The team will respond very well. We need to focus on Finland first.
"I’m worried about the match in Gijon on the 22nd. We need to be on good form and get three points."
Spanish Players to Watch: Cesc Fabregas and David Villa
While the Spanish team that will face Finland reads like a "Who's Who" of top footballing talents—Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, David Silva, etc.—the key man will be the team's forward atop the attack.
If there is a weakness in this current Spanish generation of players that has dominated the international scene, it's that the team has never really found a true striker. That much was evident when manager Del Bosque omitted Fernando Torres from this crop of qualifiers.
Both players will likely play a "False 9" role similar to what Lionel Messi plays for Barcelona. Of course, Messi is so effective in that role because he is the world's most potent finisher and is uncanny in his ability to create scoring chances in tight spaces.
If Del Bosque wants a pure finisher atop the attack, he'll roll with Villa. If he wants a playmaker that that can drop back deeper or roll out to the wings, he'll go with Fabregas. Either way, whomever starts atop the attack will be Spain's key player.
Finnish Player to Watch: Perparim Hetemaj
Perparim Hetemaj will take the place of Alexei Eremenko in the midfield and will have to replicate the playmaking abilities of the Rubin Kazan talisman if Finland is to have any chance of surviving with at least a point in this game.
Hetemaj has made four appearances for Finland this year, but the Chievo man is going to have to play like a far more experienced player than that if Finland hopes to tally a goal in this game. With Spain likely to hold possession 60 percent of the time, the Finnish need to strike when they get the opportunity.
That will all hinge on how Hetemaj responds starting in the attacking midfielder role.
I know it's possible Spain will be looking ahead to France, but does it really matter? This Spanish team is the best in the world even without Torres, Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol and Iker Casillas on the roster. Spain wins, 4-0.
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