Spain v Macedonia: Under-pressure holders out for big qualifying win

6 September 2014 16:37

Spain’s new-look squad is already under scrutiny ahead of the nation’s first competitive match of a new era at home to Macedonia on Monday.

The 2014 World Cup saw Spain’s dominance of the international game come to an abrupt end, with defeats to the Netherlands and Chile resulting in a group-stage exit for the team that had claimed two European Championship titles either side of becoming world champions in 2010.

Xavi, Xabi Alonso and David Villa followed Carles Puyol into international retirement thereafter, leaving coach Vicente del Bosque without four men who had played pivotal roles in the team’s earlier success.

Del Bosque has overlooked striker Fernando Torres – another significant figure in Spain’s golden era – for the clash with Macedonia in Valencia, which kicks off both sides’ Euro 2016 qualifying campaigns.

With Gerard Pique, who asked to be excused from duty, and Andres Iniesta (knee) also absent, Spain’s squad has a somewhat unfamiliar look to it.

Dani Carvajal, Mikel San Jose, Raul Garcia and Paco Alcacer all earned first caps in an underwhelming 1-0 defeat to France on Thursday.

The withdrawal of Diego Costa, who completed a fifth appearance without a goal for Spain in that encounter, has resulted in another fresh face – Barcelona teenager Munir El Haddadi – being called up.

“Players like Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Villa were exemplary,” Del Bosque said. “I want their spirit it to live on in this team.

“Let’s hope this new era can be a success. It’s a big challenge.”

Del Bosque, meanwhile, is remaining tight-lipped on whether David De Gea, who kept goal against France, or Iker Casillas will start against Macedonia.

“De Gea did well, we are all happy with him,” said the veteran coach. “But we’ll see.”

Macedonia suffered disappointing Euro 2012 and 2014 World Cup qualification campaigns, with Goran Pandev, widely regarded as Macedonia’s all-time greatest player, quitting the national team thereafter.

Moreover, they have failed to earn a victory, or score, in their last four games.

Macedonia’s hopes of ending their goal drought do not look particularly promising. Striker Adis Jahovic has struggled for playing time since a recent move to Krylya Sovetov, and although Jovan Kostovski has been in good form for OH Leuven, his goals have come in Belgium’s second tier.

Spain and Macedonia have Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus and Luxembourg for company in Group C.