International weekends normally present Spanish football fans with a rare opportunity to watch their team in the comfort of their own homes.
La Liga coverage is dominated by the pay television channels Canal Plus and Gol Television, with just one game a week – often the least exciting one – being shown on public television, but at least everyone can watch Spain, whether it's in a major tournament, a friendly, or a qualifying game.
But on Friday night, those in Spain who wanted to follow La Roja play Belarus were forced to track down illegal streams on their laptops, or settle for keeping up to date via minute-by-minute reports. Bars that are used to making a tidy windfall from showing live games were left with empty tills, and in the office of the country's second biggest selling sports newspaper, journalists were crowding round other people's computers or frantically sending each other links of poor quality streams of the match with commentary in a foreign language.
While viewers in Saudi Arabia, Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom and France watched the World and European champions flatten Belarus 4-0, Spaniards had to make do without, and the family of Pedro Rodriguez were unable to watch him score the first hat-trick of his career.
It was the first time since May 1983, for a Euro 1984 qualifier away to Malta, that Spaniards were unable to watch La Seleccion in a competitive match on television. Technical problems were to blame then, while this time around it was financial problems, with neither of Spain's three main television companies willing to pay the asking price to broadcast the game in Minsk. Rights holders Sportfive originally asked companies for €3m euros for the privilege to broadcast the game, a figure which was quickly halved, and then reportedly reduced to €800,000.
The final figure was still deemed too high for a game against unglamorous opponents which everyone expected Spain to win easily and that was scheduled for an off-peak 6pm Spanish time kick-off. And considering these television companies have seen their advertising revenues fall by 60 per cent in the last three years, it was hard to blame them. As a director from the company Mediaset declared: “The price did not fit with the reality of the situation we are in.”
Spanish radio stations were expected to broadcast the match, seeing as they had already flown the 3,400km distance from Madrid to Minsk, but were told on the day of the game that they had to pay €25,000 to transmit from inside the Dynama stadium, and so they ended up broadcasting the game from their hotel rooms, following it on television.
It was a farcical situation but as usual, it was the fans who suffered the most. After the game Vicente Del Bosque lamented the fact Spaniards were not able to see the game, saying: “It's a real shame that the fans could not watch this brilliant performance, it was a game that should have been enjoyed.”
Indeed, the situation prevented Spain’s audience from seeing how La Roja coped with a makeshift defence and another go at the strikerless formation.
Del Bosque’s decision to employ Sergio Busquets at centre-back meant Xabi Alonso was Spain’s only holding midfielder, a change from the usual double pivot usually employed. The result was a midfield with more freedom and some fine, free-flowing football produced.
Whilst eyes were on Cesc Fabregas in the ‘false 9’ role once again, it was Pedro that stole the show. He provided the assist for Jordi Alba’s opening goal with a crafty flick of the heel and then scored an awesome treble, each of which were chips over goalkeeper Verenko, finishes that oozed confidence.
Pedro has now scored five goals in his last two starts for his country. Despite netting twice against Saudi Arabia in his last start, he was relegated to the substitutes’ bench for the game against Georgia, replaced by Roberto Soldado. The Valencia striker may have got the winner in Tbilisi but it will be difficult for Del Bosque to leave out Pedro again after this performance.
France will no doubt prove to be tougher opponents than Belarus and Saudi Arabia but it is difficult to see what more Pedro needs to do to earn himself a place in the starting line-up for an important game. His unpredictable movement can split defences and he is developing a great understanding with an in-form David Silva in particular.
Unfortunately, it was a performance that will have left few in Spain calling for his inclusion, as few in Spain saw it. If Del Bosque does give him the chance he deserves against France, he will be able to count on the player’s hunger and at least on Tuesday, people will be watching.