Sunday 18 February 2018

Spain in no mood to take foot off gas, warns Iniesta

Ian Chadband

The way the little magician talked, he made it sound as if the easy part was winning the World Cup, sandwiched by two European Championship triumphs, and that only now came the difficult bit.

"But we've been together a long time and I believe we can still carry on with the same motivation and dynamic," Andres Iniesta warned.

Nothing could spell gloomier tidings for the teams seeking to dethrone Spain, the team which Iniesta shot to glory in South Africa and which plans to continue to set standards unmatched in the annals of world football.

Tonight, they host France in just about the biggest World Cup qualifier anywhere on the road to Rio -- a clash between two major teams protecting 100pc records.

For all the talent that resides in the French game, it is a measure of Vicente del Bosque's swaggering champions that Didier Deschamps' team come to Madrid with an air of faint hope rather than expectation.

France believes in Deschamps as one of its real footballing winners. A good job, too, because only he could have overseen the embarrassing 1-0 loss in Paris to Japan and still have his compatriots trusting in his pronouncement: "We can bring something back from Madrid."

FRUITLESS

Beating La Roja has become one of international sport's most fruitless quests. In competitive internationals stretching back six years, Spain have lost only to Switzerland in their opening game of the 2010 World Cup and to the USA in a Confederations Cup tie a year earlier. That, astonishingly, means only two defeats in 53 games.

Iniesta's suggestion that they have not taken their foot off the pedal since their Euro triumph over Italy has had a ring of veracity, especially as their 4-0 win in Belarus offered a host of reasons why they remain in a league of their own.

What other team could lose their most talismanic striker, a man with 52 goals in national colours, and not miss him at all?

Yet when David Villa was ruled out of the entire Euro 2012 tournament with a broken leg, it never stopped Spain becoming the tournament's top scorers, despite all the early foolish talk about them being strikerless bores.

Villa, still not at full fitness, was given a 15-minute run-out against Belarus by which time a brilliant hat-trick from Pedro, a winger of striking speed and brilliance, had already settled the issue.

Tonight, in Atletico's Vicente Calderon stadium, Del Bosque could plump for an out-and-out striker -- Villa or Fernando Torres -- or again use Cesc Fabregas as the floating poacher.

And this Spanish side remain as solid in defence as they are elaborate in creation. If France get a look in, they still have to somehow get past Iker Casillas, who against Belarus took his national record to 727 minutes without conceding a goal. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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