World Cup qualifying is back in focus, and, for the first time in years, Spain are actually under pressure.
Vicente del Bosque’s side travel to Finland, and people may consider this as just another game for Spain, but it is not. It is crucial. The game throws up some of the worst possible situations that are facing Spain.
Finland are probably out of contention for qualification from Group I, but they made life difficult for Spain—drawing 1-1 in the first game between the two sides in Gijon.
That draw was a major surprise and was in part down to del Bosque wanting to stick with his usual formation, which included Alvaro Arbeloa at right-back. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos spent a lot of time in Finland’s half, and this resulted in space on the right.
When you play against a side like Finland who spend so much time defending in their own box, you have to adopt a different approach and take risks.
That is what I feel Spain will do tonight, partly as del Bosque will have to make changes. Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso would have started the game, but both are injured. So it looks like Mario Suarez of Atletico Madrid will be a starter in the centre of midfield alongside Xavi of Barcelona.
It is likely Spain will play with three centre-backs, or at least three supposed centre-backs, as one of them is likely to be Jordi Alba on the left—as reported by Marca’s Miguel Angel Lara.
Sergio Ramos will be one of the centre-backs and possibly Raul Albiol the third. So it will be two centre-backs and a stand-in centre-back in Alba who will be asked to get forward.
The idea is for Spain to open up the pitch as much as possible, which you have to do against a team who will be intent on defending and doing so in numbers.
There are two question marks regarding the team, one in attack and one in goal.
So who will del Bosque play in goal?
Will he play a man who is on the bench at Real Madrid in Casillas? If he does, he will be going back on his word, which has always been that, to play in the national team, you have to be playing for your club.
If he does that, what does it mean for Victor Valdes?
He has gone almost 300 minutes without conceding a goal for Spain, as confirmed on Soccerbase.com, he has started so well for Barcelona this season, and he should be starting. Del Bosque says he has made his mind up, reported by FIFA.com.
And the other question concerns his attack.
It is a much more difficult game for Spain than people are thinking and is one for all followers of the team to watch with interest.
If they get the three points, then life will be much easier for qualifying, but, if not, Spain may be facing the play-offs.