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International Friendly: Belgium vs Spain Preview
Our football scribe takes a look at Thursday's FIFA friendly international between Belgium and Spain.
Both of these European juggernauts will be smarting in the wake of disappointing Euro campaigns that has seen changes in both managerial set-ups. The glorious reign of Vincente Del Bosque as Spanish head coach ended in fairly ignominious fashion at the hands of arch spoilers Italy. Roberto Martinez’s ill-fated tenure as Everton boss ended in similarly deflating fashion. The much loved Spaniard now embarks on a new journey as manager of perhaps the most underperforming side in world football: Belgium.
Belgium v Spain | Thursday 1 September | King Baudouin Stadium | 20:45
To Win (90 Mins)
Belgium 17/10 | Draw 21/10 | Spain 17/10
Belgium must be the most schizophrenic side in world football. Their devastating victory over Hungary in the round of 16 was followed by an anaemic quarter-final loss to Wales. It will be Martinez’s job to try and find a level of consistency within the side.
I find Martinez’s appointment slightly puzzling in that regard. It almost seems as if this Belgium squad will help him indulge his worst impulses in regards to an overemphasis on attack. In his 25 man squad, Martinez has named nine attacking players. I know it’s just a friendly, but it’s still somewhat worrying that he has gone so forward heavy. This has been exacerbated by his decision to appoint Thierry Henry as his assistant coach. Style over substance, perhaps?
International friendlies have a tendency to be experimental, but I suspect Martinez will play his strongest side to get off the mark with a win. Vincent Kompany’s absence will see Alderweireld partner either Vermaelen or Verthongen in the heart of defence. This was where Belgium were found wanting and an area where Martinez will need to strengthen. I also predict a long night for Witsel and co. The Belgium defensive midfielders are going to struggle to contain the movement of those nimble Spanish attacking players.
Hazard will give Carvajal some issues - surely Bellerin would have been a better option at right back - while Lukaku looks to unsettle the experienced duo of Ramos and Pique. There are, incidentally, fifteen players in the Belgium squad who ply their trade in the Premier League.
Del Bosque’s tenure as national coach brought unprecedented success to a country which had perennially failed to realize their mammoth potential. Julen Lopetegui’s first job will be to assess whether tika taka is an antiquated notion.
Spain looked good at the Euros until they ran into an Italian side that tactically outmanoeuvred them. I still believe that the Spanish possession style has a place in international football and will be successful again with some tinkering. That’s where Lopetegui has the advantage over Martinez. His new Spanish side have a cohesive reference point for implementing a style. The Belgium national footballing identity is based more on player power than discernible style.
Lopetegui has raised some eyebrows with various omissions. Fabregas, Casillas, Juan Fran, Bellerin and Pedro have failed to make the side. Juan Mata and Diego Costa have both earned recalls while the exciting Real Madrid talent Asencio cracks the nod.
Costa and Morata give this Spanish side focal point options should ‘death by possession’ fail. I’m excited by the combination of Silva and Nolito at City and Lopetegui will hope this will translate into the international arena.
Verdict: Spain 17/10I think that Spain’s possession will trump Belgium’s counterattacking style. The Spanish side have a telekinetic understanding of each other which should see them emerge victorious in a battle between two new managers trying to establish themselves.
Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets