World and European champions Spain travel to Minsk on Friday to face Belarus in a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Spain’s incredible 23-match winning streak in European Championship and World Cup qualifiers means they are heavily favoured to win, especially with Belarus in lacklustre form of late.
Georgy Kondratyev’s side have made a poor start to qualifying, losing to both Georgia and France in Group I.
And they will have their hands full against a Spain side who battled to a 1-0 win in Georgia in their only qualifier so far.
Spain have an embarrassment of riches to choose from, with midfielder Juan Mata – who has starred for Chelsea in recent English Premier League matches – unfortunate to miss out on selection.
Athletic Bilbao forward Fernando Llorente has also been left out, while Barcelona defender Gerard Pique is absent due to a foot injury.
Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque admitted he has selection headaches every time he picks his squad but said he had no space to include Mata on this occasion.
“We have a problem with quantity, not quality,” Del Bosque said.
“It pains me to leave out some of those who haven’t been called up, because there are others who could have been here.
“He (Mata) wasn’t in the previous list because we agreed with Chelsea that he had to have a break which he didn’t have in the summer. But we haven’t any space to bring him in this time.”
The Belarusian soccer association have offered their players a win bonus more than triple what they normally receive but stopping the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, David Villa and company is easier said than done.
Belarus are likely to play a 4-5-1 formation in a bid to strangle Spain’s possession-based game, with former Barcelona and Arsenal man Aleksandr Hleb sure to be the playmaker in midfielder.
BATE Borisov forward Vitaly Rodionov will lead the attack on his own, while Del Bosque is set to use his favoured 4-3-3 formation, with Villa and Fernando Torres his most likely options if the former Real Madrid coach opts for a traditional centre forward.
Belarus coach Londratyev recently conceded it is ‘almost impossible’ to win the ball off Spain and you can be sure that they will dictate terms.
That usually converts into chances and goals, with Belarus needing to do something extra special to stop Spain’s superb winning run.