It was a game that most expected Spain to waltz through but with 10 minutes to go, Finland caused a shock and nicked a point in Gijon back in March. It was the second game in a row that Spain had conceded late in a competitive game. Now La Roja are three games away from an automatic place in Brazil and to get there they need maximum points in Helsinki. Things are not going to plan for Vicente del Bosque though.
With key personnel out injured, Del Bosque has had to include players with limited experience in his squad. Before the team met up, Sergio Busquets and Inigo Martinez pulled out and the World Cup-winning Coach raised a few eyebrows when he called up Real Madrid’s Nacho Fernandez to replace the Real defender. The 23-year-old has played less than 15 games for his club and many believe that there were better players available.
Should Nacho play any part in the game, he will become the first Real Madrid canterano, still at the club, to make his Spanish debut since Raul Bravo in 2002. Javi Garcia was called in for Busquets, which has seen more questions raised. With poor form and match fitness also a concern, Del Bosque has been experimenting all week.
During one training session Del Bosque used: Valdes, Koke, Albiol, Ramos, Alba, Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Navas, Soldado and Negredo as a starting XI. The first thing that catches the eye is that Casillas’ woes continue. Del Bosque has always said that the Real Madrid shot-stopper will continue to have his support, but this week he has toyed with the idea of using Victor Valdes. The right side of the defence has been an Achilles heel lately and Alvaro Arbeloa has failed to impress in the position and this week, notably, Atletico’s Koke has been trialled and may get the nod on Friday. Going from the last few training sessions he may not be the only Atleti player starting.
Mario Suarez has been playing the role of organiser just in front of the defence in training, linking the back four to the midfield. Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and David Silva are expected to play in front of him with possibly Alvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado starting together in attack, although David Villa may have something to say about that. Pedro Rodriguez, who scored a spectacular overhead kick in Las Rozas this week, is also fighting to prove his worth. On the bench Spain have plenty of talent with the likes of Santi Cazorla, Cesc Fabregas and Jesus Navas all waiting to get their chance.
A win against Finland really gives Spain a serious advantage over France. La Roja have their final two games at home whilst France have three games left – Belarus and Georgia away and Finland at home. Finland know that their chances of qualifying for the World Cup are slim but they also know they still mathematically have a chance and so will be no pushovers. Del Bosque and his players are expected to beat them but a loss or draw and the criticism that has been aimed at the veteran tactician for this squad will get louder.