Spain will be hoping to end the international break on a winning note when they take on minnows Kosovo in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers this midweek.

Curtains will fall on the first international break of the 2021/22 season in Europe this Wednesday with another set of FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying fixtures taking place. In Group B, leaders Spain will go up against Kosovo at the Fadil Vokrri Stadium in Pristina, hoping to bag another victory and strengthen their position as table-toppers.

Spain, after their semi-final exit at the UEFA Euro 2020, were handed a shock defeat by Sweden in their first fixture of the current international window. However, La Roja bounced back in style, cruising to a 4-0 victory over Georgia this past weekend, which meant that they were able to maintain a one-point lead over the Swedes at the top of Group B. And Luis Enrique will be hoping for more of the same for his troops on Wednesday.

Kosovo, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last three games. The Dardanians kicked off the international break with a 1-0 win over Georgia before salvaging a 1-1 draw against Greece last time out. The result meant that Bernard Challandes’ men are currently third in Group B with four points from four games, four below second-placed Sweden who also have a game in hand. So qualification as well as a playoff spot does appear out of reach for the hosts.

The reverse fixture in Group B, played in March earlier this year, which was the first meeting between the two nations, saw Spain register a comfortable 3-1 win with goals coming from Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres and Gerard Moreno. Ahead of their latest meeting on Wednesday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Kosovo

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Kosovo have to deal with some absentees for the game against Spain as Besar Halimi, who scored in the reverse fixture, is suspended alongside Lirim M. Kastrati. In addition, Elbasan Rashani misses out with injury whereas Visar Bekaj is ruled out after testing positive for Covid. Bersant Celina is another notable absentee after being not allowed to join the national team by his club, Ipswich Town.

Manager Bernard Challandes is unlikely to make a host of changes to the side that held Greece to a draw last time out, with Kosovo, much like Spain, expected to line up in a 4-3-3 formation in front of goalkeeper Arijanet Muric. Amir Rrahmani and Fidan Aliti should feature as the two centre-backs flanked by Mergim Vojvoda and Florent Hadergjonaj, with the full-back duo expected to stay compact.

With Halimi ruled out, 25-year-old Florian Loshaj ought to get a run-out in the middle of the park against Spain. Ibrahim Dresevic, meanwhile, will slot in as the defensive midfielder and look to cut out the influence of his Spanish midfield counterparts, with support coming from Valon Berisha.

Vedat Muriqi, who scored the injury-time equaliser against Greece, is a certainty to feature as the central striker, while Milot Rashica is another guaranteed starter in attack, potentially on the right flank. But with Kastrati ruled out, Hannover’s Florent Muslija ought to come into the side against the Spaniards this midweek.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Muric; Vojvoda, Rrahmani, Aliti, Hadergjonaj; Loshaj, Dresevic, Berisha; Rashica, Muriqi, Muslija

Spain

Spain came into this international break without Pau Torres, Pedri, Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal, all of whom were given extended breaks after their involvement in the UEFA Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games in the summer. Fabian Ruiz, Thiago Alcantara and Diego Llorente are also not part of Luis Enrique’s squad, while Jose Gaya is ruled out after picking up an injury against Georgia.

Unai Simon ought to retain his place between the sticks for Spain, as he hopes to secure another clean sheet on Wednesday. There could be a change of defensive personnel in front of him, with Aymeric Laporte likely to be given a breather. Instead, Raul Albiol could pair up with Eric Garcia at centre-back while Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba line up as the full-backs, with the latter replacing the injured Gaya.

Rodri gave a good account of himself against Georgia. However, he is very much expected to make way for captain Sergio Busquets who will anchor the midfield for Spain. Koke should also return to the lineup, at the expense of fellow Atletico Madrid midfielder Marcos Llorente, while in-form Carlos Soler should occupy the third slot in the middle and look to provide the forward thrust.

Pablo Sarabia and Ferran Torres were both among the goals in the win over Georgia and should retain their places on the left and right flanks, respectively, against Kosovo. The duo will largely look to cut infield and create overloads through the middle while allowing space for the full-backs to bomb forward. Alvaro Morata ought to line up as the No. 9.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Simon; Azpilicueta, Garcia, Albiol, Alba; Koke, Busquets, Soler; Torres, Morata, Sarabia

Key Stats

  • After a run of six losses in nine games, Kosovo have faced defeat just once in their previous six matches, winning four of those (D1).
  • Spain, after going on an unbeaten run of 13 games, have lost two of their last three matches (W1).
  • Alvaro Morata, with 22 goals, is Spain’s ninth all-time leading goalscorer. If he scores on Wednesday, he will go level with La Roja legends Sergio Ramos and Alfredo Di Stefano (both 23) as the joint eighth-highest goal-getter for his country.

Player to Watch

Carlos Soler

It has been an amazing start to the season for midfielder Carlos Soler, who was in fine form for Valencia and has managed to carry that forward to the international stages as well. Indeed, the 24-year-old has scored in each of his five appearances in 2021/22 for club and country, making him the in-form player for Spain ahead of the trip to Pristina.

Soler’s run of form has seen him attract interest from Premier League giants Liverpool and he will be keen to carry on in his merry ways on Wednesday to continue enhancing his reputation while also helping La Roja take a step closer towards qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar next year.

Prediction

Kosovo 1-2 Spain

Unlike their opponents in the last game, Kosovo will be a much trickier prospect for Spain. The Dardanians are in a decent run of form, having not lost in any of their last three games. However, after their blip against Sweden, La Roja bounced back in tremendous fashion. With the likes of Ferran Torres, Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia seemingly in good nick, they should have enough in their tanks to get over the line, although the scoreline might not be as emphatic as it was at the weekend.

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