Defending champions Spain can seal their place at next year’s European Championships in France when they host minnows Luxembourg in Logrono on Friday.
However, Vicente del Bosque’s men are under pressure to produce plenty of goals as well as the three points after an unconvincing campaign that has failed to dispel the doubts that his golden generation may be past its prime.
Del Bosque has been fiercely loyal to players who were a part of Spain’s historic three consecutive major tournament wins between 2008 and 2012 with the country’s first World Cup sandwiched between back-to-back European Championships.
Yet, even the former Real Madrid boss was fiercely critical of his side’s sluggish display in a 1-0 win over Macedonia last month that took them to the verge of automatic qualification.
Spain have won seven of their eight matches to lead Group C, but have managed just five goals in their last four qualifiers.
“We have the responsibility to play two games, the first to ensure that we qualify and if we win the second it would be a complete week,” Del Bosque told Spanish radio station Cadena SER.
In the quest for goals La Roja should be boosted by the return of in-form Juventus striker Alvaro Morata in place of the suspended Diego Costa.
However, despite Chelsea’s poor start to the season, Costa’s club teammate Cesc Fabregas is set to keep his place in the side.
Should Fabregas feature both against Luxembourg and away to Ukraine on Monday he will become just the 10th Spanish player to reach 100 international caps, eight of which were part of the World Cup winning squad in 2010.
“It would give me great satisfaction to reach that figure,” he told Radio Marca. “To play 100 games in the 10 years since I made my debut is a lot.”
Yet, Fabregas rejected that the number of centurions in the squad is a sign that more fresh blood is needed to take Spain back to the heights of recent years. “Now we have a different team because some important players have gone, but the youngsters and those of us still here provide an important base for the team to build on,” he said. “It would be good if we can continue to be successful and in France win a third consecutive Euros.”
England to try out youngsters
Tottenham Hotspur teenager Dele Alli is one of several players hoping to make an impression when England begin their preparations for next year’s European Championships against Estonia on Friday.
England secured their place at Euro 2016 by beating Switzerland 2-0 last month and with nothing riding on the game, manager Roy Hodgson may use it to test Arsenal forward Theo Walcott in a central role and could also give 19-year-old central midfielder Alli a first taste of senior international football.
“He’s really pushed on,” said goalkeeper Joe Hart of Alli. “He had a good season last season and Tottenham look like they’ve given him confidence by putting him in their very good side.”
With club-mate Danny Welbeck injured and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge easing his way back to full fitness, Walcott is eager to seize a chance to prove himself as a potential long-term partner for skipper Wayne Rooney.
“Playing there [up front] for England, that’s what I want to do,” he told a press conference on Wednesday. “You want to represent your country and I know everyone would like to see me up front, but whether it’s on the left or right… There’s an opportunity there, definitely.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2015.
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