MX23RW : Friday, January 18 18:47:57

Preview: Belarus vs. Spain

Sports Mole provides the lowdown on Sunday's Group C Euro 2016 qualifier in Borisov between Belarus and reigning champions Spain.

Reigning European champions Spain suffered a shock exit in the group stage of the World Cup last summer and haven't had it all their own way in qualifying for France 2016.

Vicente del Bosque's side are second in Group C behind surprise package Slovakia, who are one of only two sides still with a 100% record at the halfway mark of qualifying, and next travel to Borisov to face Belarus.


Belarus

Slovakia's Peter Pekarik fights for the ball with Belarus' Sergei Balanovich during the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying football match between Belarus and Slovakia in Borisov some 100 km from Minsk on October 12, 2014© Getty Images

Belarus have never qualified for the finals of a major tournament and Aleksandr Khatskevich's side made a poor start to their bid to reach Euro 2016.

They started with a trip to the lowest-ranked side in the group, Luxembourg, and were only able to draw 1-1 before suffering three straight defeats to Ukraine, Slovakia and Spain, scoring just once in those three losses.

A run of seven Euro qualifiers without a win was ended last time out, though, as Khatskevich's men went to Macedonia and came from behind to win 2-1 and move up to fourth in the group.

Still, they are five points behind third-placed Ukraine and will need to have a monumental second half of qualifying if they are to sneak into the top three.

Since that win in Skopje the Belarusians have been held at home by Gabon and lost 4-2 away to Russia in a pair of friendlies.

Recent form: DLLLW
Recent form (all competitions): LLWWDL


Spain

Spain's players celebrate a goal during the friendly football match Spain vs Costa Rica at the Reino de Leon stadium in Leon on June 11, 2015© Getty Images

The reigning champions should still qualify with ease for next summer's finals, but the fact that they are not top of the group is an eye-opener.

Since the World Cup, they have lost four of their nine games and one of those defeats was in Zilina against the surprising Slovaks.

After that setback they have recorded three straight wins in qualifying without conceding a goal against Luxembourg, Ukraine and Sunday's opponents Belarus.

In fact, La Roja have kept a clean sheet in eight of their last 10 European Championship matches.

They have played two friendlies since their last qualifier against Ukraine, going down 2-0 to the Netherlands in March before a 2-1 win over Costa Rica last night.

Del Bosque's men stayed 10th in the latest FIFA world rankings, 70 places above their opponents.

Recent form: WLWWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWLW


Team News

Spain's forward Alvaro Morata celebrates after scoring a goal with Spain's midfielder Isco, Spain's forward David Silva and Spain's defender Jordi Alba (R), during the EURO 2016 qualifier football match Spain vs Ukraine at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadiu© Getty Images

With Chelsea striker Diego Costa missing, Del Bosque must choose whether to start Paco Alcacer, who scored in the win over Costa Rica, or Alvaro Morata up front.

Between them, the duo have just 10 international caps and Morata might just get the nod after his strong end to the season with Juventus.

Cesc Fabregas scored the other goal last night, but he might have to settle for a place on the bench if Isco gets the nod in midfield.

Mikhail Gordeychuk, Sergei Balanovich and Dmitri Verkhovtsov all had to withdraw from the Belarus squad ahead of the friendly with Russia so won't be available here.

Belarus possible starting lineup:
Chernik; Shitov, Martynovich, Filipenko, Bordachev; Hleb, Kislyak, Dragun; Krivets, Putsila; Kornilenko

Spain possible starting lineup:
Casillas; Carvajal, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Koke, Busquets, Iniesta; Isco, Silva; Morata


Head To Head

The reverse fixture in Huelva was a 3-0 win in Spain's favour, with Isco, Sergio Busquets and Pedro on the scoresheet.

Spain are used to playing Belarus having also been in their group in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. On their last trip to Belarus in the sides' first meeting, Spain cruised to a 4-0 win in Minsk.


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We say: Belarus 0-3 Spain

Belarus have been far from convincing in qualifying so far, but they will be buoyed after that win over Macedonia last time out. Still, Spain should prove far too strong and comfortably come through.


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Who will win Sunday's qualifier, Belarus or Spain?

Belarus
Draw
Spain
Belarus
9.2%
Draw
5.6%
Spain
85.2%
Spain's forward Paco Alcacer shoots against Costa Rica's goalkeeper Keilor Navas to score a goal during the friendly football match Spain vs Costa Rica at the Reino de Leon stadium in Leon on June 11, 2015
Read Next:
Live Commentary: Spain 2-1 Costa Rica - as it happened
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