Spain are looking to kickstart their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign on a positive note when they lock horns with Greece on Thursday.
Following months of non-stop club footballing action, fans will turn their attention towards the international stage as nations across the world begin their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign this week.
2010 Champions Spain kickstart their schedule on Thursday, in a Group B encounter against Greece, at Los Carmenes stadium in Granada. It is a vital game for the home side, who are hoping to start their campaign on a positive note, especially after being drawn in a group that includes two tricky teams in Sweden and Greece.
Securing all three points on Thursday, therefore, should give La Roja an early headstart over one of their closest pursuers. The Greeks, though, will be hoping to rain on their parade by causing an upset that could serve as a statement of intent, as they hope to clinch at least the second spot in the Group B table.
Both the respective nations haven’t played football in a while, with hosts Spain last playing against Germany, handing them an iconic 6-0 humiliation in the UEFA Nations League. Their midweek opponents had also featured in the same competition, although they were dealt with a much easier opponent in Slovenia.
The two teams had last met in a competitive international affair back in Euro 2008 when Spain beat Greece 2-1 through goals from Ruben de la Red and Dani Guiza. The Vicente de Basque led side went on to win the competition, kickstarting the nation’s dominance over world football in the four years that followed.
In the meantime, though, The Hard Tackle takes a look at these two sides ahead of this crucial Group B encounter in the qualifying stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup this midweek.
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🔴 OFICIAL | Esta es la convocatoria de @LUISENRIQUE21 para los tres próximos compromisos internacionales de la @SeFutbol en la Fase de Clasificación para el Campeonato del Mundo de #Catar2022.#SomosEspaña #SomosFederación pic.twitter.com/9iqnlSZ8aq
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Luis Enrique has unsurprisingly called up a bunch of quality players for the upcoming set of matches, with the list including seasoned veterans like Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Thiago, Sergio Busquets and Koke.
Most of them are likely to start as well, knowing the importance of this game. Hence, we are expecting starts for Alba, Koke and Alvaro Morata while Enrique will be forced to remain cautious with Ramos, who faces a delicate fitness issue at the moment.
Pedro Porro is a new face in the Spain squad, and with no other recognised right-backs in the side, remains guaranteed to start. He and Alba should occupy the full-back roles with Eric Garcia and Inigo Martinez operating at the heart of the backline, providing cover for Unai Simon in goal.
Enrique’s men generally like to operate with a 4-3-3 with the holding midfielder, most likely Rodri, being tasked with the responsibility of recycling possession in a game where the Spaniards are guaranteed to dominate possession.
The Manchester City star could thus be a vital cog in the middle of the park, alongside Koke and Thiago, although Sergio Canales, Busquets Marcos Llorente are all viable options. Pedri, too, should make his national team debut at some point this week.
Moving forward, the Spanish attack should be spearheaded by Morata, with additional support from the two wingers in Gerard Moreno and Ferran Torres. Enrique does have alternatives in this department as well, with Bryan Gil, Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal all making strong cases for being included in the side.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Simon; Porro, Garcia, Martinez, Alba; Thiago, Rodri, Koke; Moreno, Morata, Torres
While Spain may have a lot of options to choose from, it is altogether a different matter for Greece, who often run of low depth in quality. In fact, one of Liverpool’s fringe defensive outlets in Kostas Tsimikas is tipped to operate at left-back.
However, the Greeks do traditionally tend to have solid central defensive units. And it has been reinforced by the selection of the in-form Konstantinos Mavropanos, who is likely to partner Georgios Tzavellas at the heart of the backline.
🇬🇷 OFFICIAL: The @EthnikiOmada squad to face Honduras (Friendly), Spain & Georgia (WC Qualifiers)
Returnees: Kapino, K. Papadopoulos, Androutsos
Absentees: Barkas, Lampropoulos, Michailidis, Rota, Kourbelis, Koulouris
NEW: Mavropanos, Douvikas
Thoughts on the call ups? pic.twitter.com/djtNIOj3QI
— Hellas Football (@HellasFooty) March 16, 2021
During his ongoing two-year spell in charge, John van ‘t Schip has had success to a varying degree with the Greek national team. The Dutchman has primarily sided with a 4-2-3-1 formation and we can expect more of the same against Spain, with the double-pivot of Andreas Bouchalakis and Zeca hoping to form a strong second line of press to restrict the influence of the opposition.
In the attack, Greece do have interesting options including the two unpredictable wingers in Petros Mantalos and 1.FC Koln’s Dimitris Limnios while the attack itself should be spearheaded by Georgios Giakoumakis, ahead of Vangelis Pavlidis and the young and exciting Anastasios Douvikas.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Vlachodimos; Mavrias, Mavropanos, Tzavellas, Tsimikas; Bouchalakis, Zeca; Limnios, Fortounis, Mantalos; Giakoumakis
- Spain secured one of their biggest win against one of the powerhouses of world football when they registered a 6-0 win over Germany in their very last match.
- Spain have sensationally tasted just one defeat since their Round of 16 elimination in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with the sole defeat coming against Ukraine in the UEFA Nations League.
- Greece are also unbeaten in their last nine competitive matches, with their last defeat coming against Italy, in the qualifying stages of the 2020 European Championships.
- Spain have scored four or more goals in four of their last eight matches, a run of results that includes a 6-0 win over Germany, a 7-0 win over Malta and a 5-0 win over Romania.
- Greece have taken a clean sheet in five of their last six matches, only conceding a goal in the 2-1 win over Kosovo in the UEFA Nations League.
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— FCBarcelonaFl (@FCBarcelonaFl) March 22, 2021
Poised to make his national team debut this midweek, Pedri is definitely the one to keep an eye on, even though the youngster might not actually feature in the starting eleven.
Having enjoyed unprecedented success at FC Barcelona, the Spaniard has already established himself as one of the finest talents in Europe, along with Ansu Fati. His creative prowess, combined with his dynamism, versatility and ingenuity in possession make him a vital prospect for Spain in the hybrid number eight and number ten role.
As far as Greece are concerned, they will need to be wary of Pedri’s sharp movements in and around the half-spaces and must not allow the youngster to navigate the ball through the press.
Spain 3-1 Greece
Spain are the undisputed favourite heading into this encounter given the gulf in difference between the two sides in terms of quality. Although La Roja do possess a relatively weaker number nine, they have more than enough creative armoury, as well as the technical prowess in midfield to dominate this game. We are thus expecting a comfortable 3-1 victory for the hosts, with the visitors likely to appear wasteful in front of goal.