5 Things We Learned from Spain's Win over Belarus
Spain moved one step closer to securing their spot in next summer's World Cup with a 2-1 win over Belarus in Mallorca on Friday night.
Despite dominating over 70 percent of possessions in the first half, La Roja failed to find the breakthrough.
The stubborn Belarus rearguard couldn't see out the second half though.
First, Xavi Hernandez, captain on the night, put the hosts ahead, and then Manchester City's Alvaro Negredo headed in the match-winning second.
Sergei Kornilenko did score a last minute consolation, but it was too little, far too late for Belarus.
It means Spain now need just one point from their final qualifier against Georgia on Tuesday night to secure their spot in Brazil.
Here are some of the main talking points the match highlighted.
Spain Will Be in Brazil
As if it was ever really in doubt.
Going into their penultimate qualifier against Belarus in Mallorca, Spain, sat level at the top of the group with France—albeit with a game in hand.
It meant they needed, realistically, four points from their final two games.
And even though it took over an hour for La Roja to find the breakthrough on Friday night, captain Xavi Hernandez did eventually find it against Belarus.
Admittedly, the group is not sewn up yet; Georgia still have to be dealt with in Albacete on Tuesday night.
It will take a story of miraculous proportions to prevent the reigning World Champions from being in Brazil next summer now, though.
Let's wait until Wednesday morning to start thinking of a Confederations Cup final rematch between Spain and the Brazilians.
Casillas Isn't Undroppable
Many, this writer included, read into Vicente del Bosque's comments in September that the Spain coach would stick by Iker Casillas no matter what.
That even if Carlo Ancelotti preferred Diego Lopez at Real Madrid, except for Champions League games, Casillas would still fill La Roja's No. 1 shirt.
After all, Del Bosque is the man who said, as reported by goal.com:
"Casillas will always have me by his side. He's the captain of the [national team] and an important part of our team."
So it was a small surprise, if not a massive earthquake, when Spain's manager opted for Victor Valdes to start the World Cup qualifier against Belarus.
It was also a completely justified selection.
Valdes has been insatiable for Barcelona so far this season, and to continue with Casillas would have been nothing short of criminal from Del Bosque.
Unfortunately, chants of "Iker, Iker" rang around the ground when Belarus scored their late consolation.
But fortunately, it looks as if the battle to be Spain's goalkeeper is wide open after all.
Is Iniesta Dispensable?
Away from Lionel Messi's shadow, Andres Iniesta has long been considered the most important part of a Spain side which has won back-to-back European Championships and a World Cup.
On Friday night, though, Vicente del Bosque showed that not even the Barcelona midfielder is indispensable.
The Spain coach opted for a midfield three of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas; Iniesta watched from the bench.
This wasn't a friendly either, it was a match that La Roja needed to win.
Admittedly, Iniesta was introduced at halftime, as Del Bosque sought a breakthrough, but it will act as a reminder to anyone that thinks their place in Spain's national team is set in stone.
For further evidence, see the previous slide on Iker Casillas.
On Saturday, he wasn't even in the squad for Spain's qualifiers against Belarus and Georgia, but on Friday night he started in the 1-0 win against the former.
Swansea's Miguel Perez Cuesta—Michu to his friends and the footballing world.
Wearing the No. 7 shirt, Michu became the eighth candidate to file his CV and portfolio for the role as Spain's No. 9 ahead of next summer's World Cup.
He joins Alvaro Negredo, David Villa, Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente, Roberto Soldado, Cesc Fabregas and, the subject of much debate recently, Brazilian Diego Costa in the queue to jet off to Brazil in 2014.
His audition wasn't a disaster, but was it enough?
Good defending kept him out once, while a flicked header dropped wide of the post. You have to wonder if Vicente Del Bosque, who traditionally sticks with the same players, will be prepared to take the gamble on Michu next year.
Negredo, who replaced Michu on the night, added Spain's second with a great header, which could accelerate him into a starting spot on Tuesday night.
Either way, Michu's ascent into the national team is not just a great story, it's a deserved one—you should all read Sid Lowe's comment on it on ESPN.
What to Do with No Alba?
With Jordi Alba ruled out for the foreseeable future, Arsenal's Nacho Monreal was granted his place on the left of Spain's back four.
That's Arsenal's Monreal, who is yet to start a Premier League game this season, sat behind Kieran Gibbs in the Gunners' pecking order.
His performance against Belarus was one of a man lacking regular football practice.
Above all, though, it was notable how little he offered in the final third in comparison to Alba—arguably the reason he was substituted off for Andres Iniesta at half time.
And while Spain have many young left-backs coming through, such as Sevilla's Alberto Monreal and Barcelona's Alejandro Grimaldo, there are few ready to step into Alba's boots.
It then prompts a look across the back four, where there is a slight lack of depth in terms of genuine world class talent.
Ironically, it is the right-back slot, where Alvaro Arbeloa is arguably Spain's weak link at the back, that possesses the most options.
Maybe that's being picky though.