Spain vs Slovakia | Saturday 05 September | Estadio Nuevo Carlos Tartiere | 20:45
European champions Spain will play log leaders Slovakia in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers on Saturday in what should prove to be a crucial contest. La Roja trail Slovakia by three points in Group C and will need a win to take the top spot and with it the direct access into the Euro 2016 finals.
To Win (90mins)
Spain, bidding for a third consecutive continental crown in France next year, have won five of their six matches in the group scoring fifteen goals while conceding just three times. In their first competitive game since their group-stage exit at the World Cup and the subsequent retirements of Xavi, Xabi Alonso and David Villa, Spain strolled to a comfortable 5-1 win over Macedonia to get their European Championship defence off to an ideal start. Spain then struggled to maintain winning form and suffered a shocking 2-1 defeat to Slovakia in their second match which was their first qualifying defeat for eight years. The loss proved a wakeup call for the European champions and Vicente del Bosque’s men responded with a 4-0 trouncing of Luxembourg with Chelsea striker Diego Costa netting his first goal for his adopted nation. Spain built on that performance with a 3-0 rout of Belarus with goals from Isco, Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez, before beating Ukraine 1-0 in Seville thanks to Alvaro Morata’s sole strike. In their last outing Spain recorded a 1-0 victory over Belarus with a well taken goal from Manchester City’s David Silva which saw Del Bosque celebrate 100 games in charge of the national team.
Although Spain are in little danger of failing to qualify they are currently second behind the Slovaks in their qualifying group and need to defeat the side who beat them a year ago in order to move into pole position. Silva has been Spain’s best player in the qualifiers and has three goals to his name, tied with national teammate Alcacer and Slovakia’s Marek Hamsik in Group C. Silva will be La Roja’s main ingredient for creativity and will be expected to dictate the tempo and style of Spain’s attacks. When given time and space on the ball, he can produce in any given moment and the Slovaks will need to mark him tightly. The powerful presence of Costa up front gives Spain an unshakeable focal point in their attack. He is irritating to opposing defenders because he not only scores or creates scoring chances, he bullies defences and is always in their face. There are many dangerous players and huge scoring threats in this Spain side with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Alcacer and Pedro.
Slovakia have earned many plaudits for their excellent showing in the Euro 2016 qualifiers that has seen them win all six of their matches. Jan Kozak’s side have scored thirteen goals while conceding just three times and find themselves on top of Group C. The Slovaks started their qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Ukraine in September last year before beating Spain 2-1 thanks to a late goal from Miroslav Stoch. Slovakia then overcame Belarus 3-1 with Hamsik scoring a brace and ousted Macedonia 2-0 with goals from Juraj Kucka and Adam Nemec. Slovakia’s march to Euro 2016 continued as they strolled to a 3-0 win over minnows Luxembourg before beating Macedonia 2-1 last time out to make it six on the spin. The Slovaks will be missing a few important players including suspended captain Martin Skrtel. The Liverpool defender has been crucial to his team’s impressive run in the group and the defence won’t be the same without him in the side. Slovakia’s star player Hamsik has been in great form scoring three times in the competition. His excellent positional sense and his ability to cover each and every blade of grass on the ground deserves special mention. His incredibly fleet feet and quickness of mind have spurred many of Slovakia's attacks and he’ll be a nuisance for Del Bosque’s side.
VERDICT: Spain HT/FT 15/20
Spain have lost just once to Slovakia in five meetings with three wins and a draw. La Roja have a plethora of weapons in their attack with the likes of Silva, Iniesta and Costa leading a lethal team that is superior to Slovakia in all departments. Spain are tipped for the win which will see them go top of Group C. Spain are short at 1/4, so I’d recommend taking them on the halftime-fulltime double at 15/20.