Evening all! Sports Mole
's live Euro 2016
qualifying coverage continues from Oviedo as Spain welcome Slovakia in Group C. It is the visitors that currently sit top of the section on 18 points, but victory for Spain tonight would see them move level on points with Slovakia. Here's to an entertaining match!
First and foremost, let me bring you up-to-speed with the team news...
SPAIN: Casillas; Juanfran, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Busquets, Fabregas, Iniesta; Pedro, Costa, Silva
SLOVAKIA: Kozacik; Pekarik, Salata, Hubocan, Tesak; Gregus, Gyomber, Hamsik; Hrosovsky, Mak, Svento
So there we have it. Iker Casillas is given the goalkeeping gloves for Spain this evening, with the Porto stopper due to win his 163rd cap. It is the back four that was expected, with Gerard Pique's domestic suspension not impacting on Vicente del Bosque's team selection. Cesc Fabregas joins Barcelona pair Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta
in midfield, while Diego Costa will lead the line. Six of the XI play their club football in Spain, while four – including the front three – play in England.
It is also worth mentioning that Spain, as expected, have an embarrassment of riches on their bench this evening. Juan Mata is back in the fold, while Manchester United teammate David de Gea has also been named among the substitutes. The likes of Koke, Santi Cazorla and Isco are also outfield options for head coach Del Bosque. In fact, they could put two excellent teams out tonight.
As for Slovakia, head coach Jan Kozak has not actually included an out-and-out forward in his XI. It appears that PAOK midfielder Robert Mak will play as the central striker, with Patrik Hrosovsky and Dusan Svento operating in wide positions. The visitors are without their skipper Martin Skrtel, meanwhile, meaning that Napoli's Marek Hamsik will lead the team on his 79th appearance. There is also a spot in the XI for Roma's 23-year-old defender Norbert Gyomber, who will seemingly start in midfield.
In terms of the recent meetings between the two teams, Slovakia recorded a 2-1 victory when the pair met in the reverse qualifier last October. Prior to that win, Slovakia had not won in four meetings with La Roja – losing three and also drawing 1-1 in a playoff for the 2006 World Cup.
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Slovakia's surprise 2-1 victory in the reverse match ended Spain's 36-game unbeaten run in qualifiers, which had stretched back to October 2006. La Roja are still unbeaten in 30 home qualifiers, however, winning the last 15 in the process. As mentioned, victory for Bosque's side tonight would move them level on 18 points with Slovakia with three group matches remaining.
Spain opened their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a thumping 5-1 victory at home to Macedonia last September, but the 2-1 loss in Slovakia meant that they were already playing catch-up after just two matches. As expected, the European champions have responded, however, with victories over Luxembourg, Belarus (H), Ukraine and Belarus (A) without conceding.
Spain's recent record in friendlies has been shaky, however, losing three of their last four non-competitive matches. They did record a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica in June, but have been beaten by France, Germany and Netherlands without scoring since the 2014 World Cup...
... La Roja arrived at last summer's tournament in Brazil as the reigning champions, but they did not make it out of the group stages and also took a 5-1 thumping from Netherlands for good measure. Spain are the current holders of the Euros, however, having beaten Italy 4-0 in the final of Euro 2012.
In terms of what is left to come for Spain, after this one, they will travel to Macedonia for another qualifier on Tuesday. Del Bosque's side will then host Luxembourg in their penultimate group match on October 9, before travelling to Ukraine on October 12. Incidentally, Ukraine were in action earlier this evening and recorded a 3-1 victory over Belarus to move level on points with Spain.
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As for the visitors tonight, it has been a hugely impressive campaign thus far. In fact, Slovakia are just one of two teams – the other being England – who have won their opening six games in qualifying. As an independent nation, they have never before qualified for the finals of a European Championship – finishing third, fourth and fourth in each of their last three qualifying campaigns.
With the top two in each group guaranteed a spot in next summer's tournament in France, Slovakia are in an excellent position to make just their second ever major international tournament, having qualified for the World Cup in 2010. Victory against Spain this evening would not secure qualification, but it would place them in a very strong position indeed with three games left.
Slovakia opened Group C with an impressive 1-0 win in Ukraine last September, before recording that impressive 2-1 win over Spain one month later. It did appear that the points would be shared in the reverse match between these two teams, but an 87th-minute winner from Miroslav Stoch ended Spain's 36-game unbeaten run in qualifiers, which made the victory even more impressive.
Slovakia then recorded a 3-1 victory in Belarus, before beating Macedonia in November. A 3-0 win at home to Luxembourg on March 27 made it five wins from five, before they beat Macedonia at home in their last qualifier in June. This is where the pressure sets in though, that is for sure.
There is little doubting that Slovakia's next two qualifiers are huge. After this game, they will host third-place Ukraine on Tuesday. Defeat tonight would not be the end of the world, but back-to-back losses would hand Ukraine real hope of a top-two finish. Slovakia will then end with games at home to Belarus and away to Luxembourg. Right, little under 15 minutes until kickoff in Oviedo!
Diego Costa leads the Spain line this evening and it is a big game for the Chelsea forward. He has netted just once in four club games this season and also just once in seven caps for La Roja...
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PREDICTION! Slovakia are six from six in Group C, but I am finding it difficult to make a case for the visitors this evening. I am certain that they will provide Spain with a tough test, but I am confident that the hosts will ultimately come through as winners. My score prediction is 2-0 Spain.
Here we go then - both sets of players join us on the pitch for the first 45 minutes of action. Once the national anthems have been sung and the flags have been exchanged, we will be ready for kickoff. It must be said that there is an excellent atmosphere inside the stadium this evening.
KICK OFF! Slovakia are currently the form team in international football - recording nine successive wins. That run will seriously be put to the test this evening, that is for sure. The pitch is in wonderful condition and it is the home side that get the first half of action underway tonight...
... as expected, Spain have taken control of the possession in the opening couple of minutes, with each member of their back four enjoying early touches. Slovakia do manage to breakaway with Mak down the right and the number 20 wins a corner, which is volleyed clear by David Silva.
Slovakia's game-plan of sitting deep and attempting to counter has been present in the early exchanges here and you just get the feeling that Spain will need to be patient in their approach.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for Slovakia to take the lead as a slip from Ramos allows Mak in on goal, but the attacker can only screw his effort wide of the post. Big let-off for Spain there!
GOAL! Spain 1-0 Slovakia (Alba)
Would you believe it! Mak misses a super chance for Slovakia and Spain go straight down the other end and score. The visitors wanted an offside flag when Silva picked out the head of Alba at the far post, but the Barcelona left-back was onside and simply nodded past Kozacik from close range.
Well, if the opening eight minutes are anything to go by, we are going to have a super game tonight. Both teams are committing players forward, while the ball is being moved very quickly.
Silva is the player making things happen for Spain at the moment as he again finds space before feeding a pass towards Iniesta, but the Barcelona midfielder cannot collect. Slovakia had started quite brightly, but without their captain Martin Skrtel, now look a little shaky at the back here.
Spain continue to play their football in and around the Slovakia box, but a poor touch from Costa allows Salata to break away and ultimately gain a free kick from Juanfran. Good tempo here.
Slovakia are showing that they can cause problems in the final third as another fast break unnerves the Spanish defence, but the final pass from Svento is disappointing. As expected, Mak is playing through the middle for the visitors, with Svento and Hrosovsky operating in wide positions.
Spain have turned on the style in the last couple of minutes, with Busquets combining with Iniesta in the middle of the park, but we have not seen too much from Costa in the opening 17 minutes. Down the other end, Mak again causes problems with is pace, but the attacker has no support.
It will not come as much of a surprise that Spain are dominating the possession here, with Slovakia sitting in and attempting to threaten on the counter. It is perhaps their best chance of taking something from the match, but that early Alba goal has already put a different complexion on the game.
As it stands, Spain would move top of the group on 18 points - level with Slovakia. Ukraine, meanwhile, would remain third on 15 points. Group C really is fascinating at this stage, with three strong teams battling for the top two positions. Still 1-0 to the hosts with 21 minutes played here.
The pattern of this match has not changed since the early stages as Slovakia do their best to counter Spain once again, but the final pass has been disappointing from the visitors. The home team continue to pass and probe outside the box, but Costa's touch has been poor thus far.
Plenty of flicks and tricks from Spain at the moment as they continue to put pressure on Slovakia's back four, but clear chances have been at a premium in this game. Silva has a sight of goal after showing lovely feet inside a crowded box, but Hubocan is on hand to make a last-ditch block.
Spain have another sight of goal through Pedro, but his goal-bound effort is blocked by Tesak. Down the other end, a long back-pass from Ramos almost catches out Casillas, but the Porto goalkeeper produces an excellent first touch. Little over 15 minutes of the first period remaining.
CHANCE! Alba comes close to scoring a second header for Spain after a chipped cross from Juanfran, but this time, the left-back can only lift his effort over the Slovakia crossbar!
BOOKING! Kozacik (Slovakia) is booked and Spain are awarded a penalty as the away side's goalkeeper challenges Costa inside the box. It was very soft and a harsh call for me.
GOAL! Spain 2-0 Slovakia (Iniesta, pen)
Iniesta, of course, sends his penalty into the bottom corner. It was a very harsh call from the referee, who thought that Kozacik had brought Costa to the ground. Not for me, though.
Another half-chance for Spain and indeed for Iniesta as the midfielder arrives unmarked at the far post, but this time, he cannot convert. It was a super cross from Fabregas that made the chance!
Slovakia just need to be careful that they do not lose their discipline in the latter stages of this first period as Spain continue to dominate matters in the final third. As it stands, Del Bosque's side are displacing Slovakia at the top of Group C, but there is still a lot of football to be played tonight.
Not too much to report in terms of chances in the last couple of minutes, but Spain are in complete control of the match as they continue to pass and probe in the final third here.
Mak continues to run the line for Slovakia. but he is finding it so difficult to gain possession of the ball. It is not too much of a surprise that the visitors have retreated following Spain's second, but something will need to change if they are to improve after the break. Five left in this half.
SAVE! Finally Slovakia threaten as a smart passing move from the visitors leads to Hamsik having a go from inside the box, but Casillas is down to make a very smart save indeed.
Spain threaten to score a third on the counter as Pedro drives away from three defenders, but the Chelsea attacker's cross, which was intended for Costa or Silva, was just cut out by Salata!
Possession football from Spain as we approach the final moments of this first period. To be blunt, the next goal in the match - if there indeed is one - needs to come for Slovakia if the visitors are to stand a chance of securing a positive result. Can the hosts score a crucial third before the interval?
Half-chance for Spain as Busquets meets a cross from Juanfran, but his effort was always swerving wide of the post. That should be just about that for the first period of action in Oviedo.
HALF-TIME: Spain 2-0 Slovakia
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to a close with Spain leading 2-0 courtesy of goals from Alba and Iniesta. The former sent La Roja ahead inside five minutes with a close-range header, before the latter converted from the penalty spot after Costa had been impeded - in the eyes of the referee - by Slovakia's goalkeeper. It could be a long second 45 minutes for the visitors.
STATS! Spain have utterly dominated the possession with 75%, while they have had eight attempts, but just two of those - the goals - have been on target. As for Slovakia, they have hit the target once in their two attempts. Just the one booking, meanwhile, with Kozacik carded for Slovakia.
BENCH WATCH! Spain have an embarrassment of riches on their bench this evening, with the likes of Isco, Cazorla, Mata, Koke and Alcacer all available. Slovakia, meanwhile, have options in the shape of Nemec, Sestak and Stoch, who scored a late winner against Spain in the reverse group match.
RESTART! Here we go then - both sets of players re-join us on the field for the second 45 minutes. Can Slovakia find a route back into this match? It is the visitors that get the second period underway...
... SLOVAKIA SUB! Duris has replaced Mak for the visitors.
It has been a fairly bright start to the second period from Slovakia, with Svento already threatening in a wide position. Indeed, a cross from the number 18 creates a half-chance for Duris, but the attacker cannot convert from inside the box. Slovakia simply need to find the next goal here.
Half-chance for Spain as Iniesta feeds a wonderful pass into Silva, who turns inside the box before releasing, but his effort smashes the side meeting. Silva has been an absolute joy this evening.
CHANCE! Wonderful chance for the away side to halve the deficit as Duris races through on goal before attempting to find the bottom corner, but it is a wonderful save from Casillas!
Spain have been a little careless in the early stages of the second period, which is inviting Slovakia to commit players forward. You just get the feeling something big is waiting to happen here...
... a scramble inside the Slovakia box almost brings another goal for Spain, but Alba's volleyed effort is blocked by Pekarik, before Costa is penalised for a push. Still 2-0 to the hosts here.
Spain have just taken the sting out of the match in the last couple of minutes with a sustained period of possession, which was needed following a good spell for Slovakia. A third goal for the hosts here would kill the game as a contest and allow Del Bosque to rest key players.
Another half-chance for Spain as Silva cuts into the box before letting fly, but Hubocan is on hand to make a super block. Fabregas then strikes one from distance, but Kozacik makes the save.
It is almost like a training session for Spain at the moment as they continue to pass and probe in the final third of the field. Slovakia have been pretty good at the back, but the legs will tire as we enter the final 30 minutes. Going long periods without the ball is very tough work indeed.
Svento continues to break forward for Slovakia and delivers another cross towards Duris, but Ramos is on hand to make the clearance. Just one goal for the visitors would at least give them something to build from, but Spain have been fairly comfortable at the back for long spells.
SLOVAKIA SUB! Slovakia make their second change as Hamsik is replaced by Duda.
Not too much of an atmosphere inside the stadium at the moment, but Slovakia have just started to quicken their pace in the final third. Surely the visitors will create at least one more big chance.
Spain are knocking on the door at the moment as Silva and Fabregas both come close inside the Slovakia box, but the visitors manage to clear their lines. Still no movement on the Spain bench, which is a bit of a surprise. It has not really happened for Costa thus far this evening.
Slovakia threaten with a quick counter that is led by Svento, but the attacker's cross-field pass finds Hrosovsky in an offside position and Spain restart proceedings with a free kick.
SPAIN SUB! Cazorla replaces Fabregas for the hosts.
Little over 20 minutes of football remaining in Oviedo and Spain still lead 2-0 courtesy of goals from Alba and Iniesta. Just a reminder that as it stands, Spain are heading top of Group C. Cazorla has a sight of goal for Spain after finding space outside the box, but his effort was always bending wide.
Costa has really struggled to make his mark for Spain this evening and a bizarre incident occurs where the Chelsea striker ducks a cross from Pedro, seemingly suggesting that he heard a call from behind. Del Bosque still has two permitted changes remaining in this Euro qualifier.
Costa tries the spectacular for Spain after meeting a cross from Juanfran, but his volleyed attempt was never causing the Slovakia goalkeeper a problem. Little over 15 minutes remaining.
SLOVAKIA SUB! Sabo replaces Hrosovsky in Slovakia's final change.
Casillas has to be brave for Spain after a deep free kick causes problems inside the home side's box - a host of players bundle into the stopper, but the Porto man manages to punch clear.
SPAIN SUB! Paco Alcacer replaces Costa.
Spain continue to pass and probe in the final third of the field, with Alcacer's movement and pace bringing a different dimension to the attack. Slovakia, meanwhile, remain a threat here.
The majority of Slovakia's best moments this evening have come on the counter attack and that is again the case as Duda manages to pick out Svento at the far post, but the attacker cannot return a pass into Gregus and Pique wins a free kick following a smart interception. Still 2-0 to the hosts.
Silva threatens a third for Spain after breaking into the box once again, but the attacker's final touch is just too heavy and it goes behind for a goal kick. You just get the feeling that there is another goal in this game, but as mentioned, Slovakia are still a threat on the counter attack.
BOOKING: Tesak (Slovakia) has his name taken for dissent.
SPAIN SUB! Iniesta is given a standing ovation as Koke enters the field.
Not an awful lot to report in terms of chances in the last couple of minutes, but Spain are in a very comfortable position as they continue to keep the ball as we approach the final moments here.
I am not one to gloat, but I did predict 2-0 at the start of the match and if you followed me, you might be close to enjoying a nice win from the bookies. That said, there is still time for someone to spoil the party in the remaining minutes. Spain deserve to collect all three points tonight.
The fourth official indicates that we will play an additional two minutes.
CLOSE! Spain come close to a third as Busquets strikes one towards the bottom corner, but the midfielder's effort just misses the post. Inches away from being 3-0 Spain tonight!
FULL-TIME: Spain 2-0 Slovakia
So there we have it. Spain indeed go top of Group C with a 2-0 win over Slovakia, who drop to second position with three group games remaining. Goals from Alba and Iniesta made the difference on the night. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action once again. Until next time!