MADRID: Defending champions Spain can seal their place at next year’s European Championships in France when they host minnows Luxembourg in Logrono on Friday.
However, Vicente del Bosque’s men are under pressure to produce plenty of goals as well as the three points after an unconvincing campaign that has failed to dispel the doubts that his golden generation may be past its prime.
Del Bosque has been fiercely loyal to players who were a part of Spain’s historic three consecutive major tournament wins between 2008 and 2012 with the country’s first World Cup sandwiched between back-to-back European Championships.
Yet, even the former Real Madrid boss was fiercely critical of his side’s sluggish display in a 1-0 win over Macedonia last month that took them to the verge of automatic qualification.
Spain have won seven of their eight matches to lead Group C, but have managed just five goals in their last four qualifiers.
“We have the responsiblity to play two games, the first to ensure that we qualify and if we win the second it would be a complete week,” Del Bosque told Spanish radio station Cadena SER.
In the quest for goals La Roja should be boosted by the return of on-form Juventus striker Alvaro Morata in place of the suspended Diego Costa.
However, despite Chelsea’s poor start to the season, Costa’s club team-mate Cesc Fabregas is set to keep his place in the side.
Should Fabregas feature both against Luxembourg and away to Ukraine on Monday he will become just the 10th Spanish player to reach 100 international caps, eight of which were part of the World Cup winning squad in 2010.
“It would give me great satisfaction to reach that figure,” he told Radio Marca.
“To play 100 games in the 10 years since I made my debut is a lot. It says a lot about my contribution and the coaches that have had faith in me.”
Yet, Fabregas rejected that the number of centurions in the squad is a sign that more fresh blood is needed to take Spain back to the heights of recent years.
“Now we have a different team because some important players have gone, but the youngsters and those of us still here provide an important base for the team to build on.
“It would be good if we can continue to be successful and in France win a third consecutive Euros.”
Del Bosque will be forced into naming a patched up starting line-up as two of the 100-cap brigade, Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta, are missing through injury.
Captain Iker Casillas is expected to keep his place in goal despite David de Gea’s fine form since returning to action with Manchester United.
And Gerard Pique will marshall the defence despite being booed by some of the Spain support in recent matches at home for mocking Real Madrid during Barcelona’s treble-winning celebrations at the end of last season.