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Preview: Macedonia vs. Spain

Sports Mole previews Tuesday's Euro 2016 Group C qualifier between Macedonia and Spain.

Spain will attempt to stretch their lead at the top of Group C when they travel to Macedonia for their Euro 2016 qualifier on Tuesday evening.

La Roja displaced Slovakia at the top of the section on Saturday and are now in pole position to qualify as group winners. Macedonia, however, currently sit bottom of Group C having taken just three points form their seven fixtures thus far.


Macedonia

Macedonia's midfielder Arijan Ademi (R) vies with Luxembourg 's defender Christopher Martins Pereira (L) during the Euro 2016 group D qualifying football match on October 9, 2014© Getty Images

As an independent nation, Macedonia have never before qualified for a major international tournament. Securing a spot at Euro 2016 was a long shot and while that is now not a possibility, the chance to finish above Belarus and Luxembourg should be in their minds.

In truth, it has been a disastrous qualification campaign for Macedonia. They were thumped 5-1 away to Spain in their Group C opener, but did respond with a 3-2 win at home to Luxembourg. It has gone downhill since then, with defeats to Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus and Luxembourg in the return match leaving them bottom of the section on three points.

They travelled to Luxembourg on Saturday and would have been confident of moving onto six points in the group, but a stoppage-time winner for the hosts meant that Macedonia would remain bottom for at least another three days. They finished fifth in their group during qualification for Euro 2012 and it would be seen as a success if they managed to move past Luxembourg and Belarus behind the top three.

In terms of what is to come for Macedonia, they will host Ukraine in their next qualifier on October 9, before finishing with a trip to Belarus three days later. Ljubinko Drulovic's task was never to qualify for Euro 2016, but to show signs of progression. It has not been the best campaign for the Red Lions, but a result against Spain would give the supporters something to cheer.

Indeed, Macedonia's attention will already be switching to their qualification group for the 2018 World Cup. To suggest that they have a tough section, however, would be putting it mildly. Israel and Liechtenstein are also in Group G, but so are Spain and Italy, in addition to the ever-improving Albania. Macedonia's bid to make a first ever major competition might have to wait a bit longer.

Recent form: LWLLLL
Recent form (all competitions): LLLDLL


Spain

Spain's defender Jordi Alba (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Euro 2016 qualifying football match Spain vs Slovakia at the Carlos Tartiere stadium in Oviedo on September 5, 2015.© Getty Images

Many would have expected Spain to have qualification for Euro 2016 sewn up at this stage, but there is still some work to do for Vicente del Bosque's side, who managed to move ahead of Slovakia into first position with a 2-0 victory over the previous group leaders on Saturday.

Goals from Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta secured all three points for the reigning European champions, who moved onto 18 points. Such is the proximity at the top of the group, however, Spain are only level on points with second-place Slovakia and just three ahead of third-place Ukraine. That said, Slovakia welcome Ukraine on Tuesday and therefore at least one of Spain's rivals for the top two positions will drop points.

Spain kicked off their Group C campaign with a thumping 5-1 win over Macedonia, but Del Bosque's side were then beaten 2-1 in Slovakia, which ended a 36-game unbeaten run in qualifiers. As expected, there has been a strong response, with wins over Luxembourg, Belarus (home and away), Ukraine and latterly Slovakia moving them to the top of the section.

In terms of what is left to come for La Roja, they will round off their Group C campaign with matches at home to Luxembourg and away to Ukraine. In truth, victory in their next two qualifiers should make their final game against Ukraine meaningless in terms of their own position. It would be a shock of the highest order if they did not secure qualification.

Indeed, Spain have only failed to qualify for one of the last nine editions of the European Championships – missing out in 1992. They have won the last two tournaments without losing a match, but are somewhat surprisingly just the third favourites with the bookmakers behind World Cup holders Germany and the competition hosts France.

La Roja have not exactly been blowing teams away in qualifying in terms of goals, but they have not conceded since losing 2-1 in Slovakia – a run of five clean sheets. What's more, Del Bosque's team have won 18 and lost just one of their last 20 away qualifiers.

Recent form: LWWWWW
Recent form (all competitions): LWLWWW


Team News

David Silva of Spain duels for the ball with Tomas Hubocan of Slovakia during the Spain v Slovakia EURO 2016 Qualifier at Carlos Tartiere on September 5, 2015 in Oviedo, Spain.© Getty Images

Macedonia will be without midfielder Besart Abdurahimi and defender Stefan Ristovski through suspension, while head coach Drulovic is also without injured midfielders Arijan Ademi and Daniel Mojsov.

Muarem Muarem is pushing for a start in the final third, but Mirko Ivanovski, despite scoring just once in 25 international games, should continue to lead the line. The top scorer in the Macedonian squad is Maribor's Agim Ibraimi, who has netted a respectable seven goals in 33 appearances for his country.

As for Spain, Diego Costa and David Silva are both one booking away from a suspension, but Del Bosque is not expected to make too many changes from the team that faced Slovakia.

Iker Casillas should keep his spot in the XI at the expense of David de Gea, but there might be a change in midfield, with the likes of Koke and Santi Cazorla vying for Cesc Fabregas's position.

The back four picks itself, however, with Juanfran edging out competition from Dani Carvajal to become Del Bosque's favoured choice on the right of the defence.

Macedonia possible starting lineup:
Pachovski; Ristevski, Shikov, Alioski, Zhuta; Gilgorov, Petrovic; Ibraimi, Muarem, Trajkovski; Ivanovski

Spain possible starting lineup:
Casillas; Juanfran, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Iniesta, Busquets, Koke; Silva, Costa, Pedro


Head To Head

As mentioned, Spain were 5-1 winners when these two nations met in the reverse qualifier in 2014. Overall, the pair have met on four occasions and Spain have recorded four victories.

Aside from the clash earlier in this qualifying process, the two teams also met during qualification for Euro 1996. Spain were 3-0 winners on their own patch, before recording a 2-0 victory in Skopje.


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We say: Macedonia 0-3 Spain

To be blunt, it is very difficult to make a case for Macedonia in this match.

Had Spain already sewn up qualification then it might be a slightly different story, but with the points so important to the visitors, they should emerge comfortable victors.



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