Hi there and welcome to Sports Mole
's live commentary of Spain
's World Cup qualifier away to Macedonia in Skopje. It's first versus fifth in Group G as the Spanish look to maintain their spot at the summit and move one step nearer to qualifying for the competition in Russia. Let's not beat around the bush - Spain could and should secure a handsome victory here tonight. They won 4-0 in the reverse fixture and there is little to suggest a similarly comfortable night isn't in store. In fact, it might have
to be a big win.
Spain are top on goal difference ahead of Italy, who will likely put quite a few goals past bottom-of-the-group Liechtenstein. Only the group winners are guaranteed a spot in Russia next summer for the World Cup, so goal difference could well be key. The Italians' goal difference is worse by eight goals. Both European giants face one another in September, but that's then and this is now. Let's look at team news.
Before we sneak a peak at the first XIs on show, let's play a game called What is Sergio Ramos Googling? Tattoo removal procedures in Madrid? Acting classes in preparation for getting people sent off next season? Other books about lining up in a wall for a free kick? Who knows. What we do know is that he is the owner of the world's whitest pair of kicks. But is he in the first XI? Only one way to find out.
Spain XI: De Gea; Pique, Busquets, Iniesta, Thiago, Ramos, Alba, Costa, Carvajal, Silva, Isco
Macedonia XI: Dimitrievski; Tosevski, Ristevski, Mojsov, Shikov, Alioski, Pandev, Ristovski, Stjepanovic, Spirovski, Nestorovski
Spain taking absolutely no chances then, eh? It's a supremely strong first XI by coach Julien Lopetegui. He makes seven changes from the side which drew 2-2 with Colombia in a friendly last week, with Pepe Reina, who made a couple of big errors, replaced between the sticks by David de Gea. Up front, Diego Costa spearheads the attack, with the creative talents of David Silva, Isco and Andres Iniesta in behind. Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Iniesta and Silva are the sole survivors from the draw with the South Americans. Manchester United target Alvaro Morata is on the bench.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed Goran Pandev's inclusion for the hosts. The 33-year-old has 29 goals in 89 caps for his country and, having enjoyed spells with Inter Milan, Lazio and Napoli down the years, he has a profile which suggests the Spanish lads will know all about him. If Macedonia do score tonight then there's a good chance it'll come from him.
Having said that, it was Palermo hitman lija Nestorovski who scored twice in Macedonia's only win in Group G - a 3-0 victory away to Liechenstein. Against Spain's defence, however, you imagine a lot of these lads will struggle. Carvajal and Ramos won the Champions League last week, for instance.
Speaking of Ramos, here he is training for when he has to chase after the referee if a decision goes against Spain tonight. Incidentally, tonight's referee is Pawel Gil of Poland.
By my watch we're about, hmm, 10 minutes shy of kickoff. Stay tuned. This, I think, will be a decent spectacle. Alright so it probably won't be hugely competitive, but we'll see quite a few goals.
Right so both teams are entering the field of play. Spain are led by our friend Sergio Ramos, while Macedonia are led by Mr Pandev, who looks oddly like the singer from The Fine Young Cannibals. Will he drive Spain cra.....sorry I can't bring myself to finish that line.
If this match was decided on stylish haircuts then Spain would hammer Macedonia. Ramos, De Gea and Pique are sporting decent barnets to be fair.
Spain got about 15 seconds for their national anthem, while Macedonia's is going on longer than Bohemian Rhapsody.
Kickoff! We're off in Skopje and Spain have a free kick already, before a chorus of boos ring around the stadium. They're up for this.
What a ball this is from Iniesta, whose over-the-top pass is met by Silva on the right-hand side of the box. He squares across the face of goal where Pique and Costa are waiting, but the Macedonia keeper smothers it. Good goalkeeping.
You have to feel for Macedonia, being up against Silva, Iniesta and Isco. Spain have more magicians than an episode of Fool Us and they'll have a huge impact tonight.
Macedonia very much second best so far, as you might expect. The hosts can't keep it more than a few seconds when they get it. Not much urgency from Spain going forward though, but they have an extra three or four gears they can go to.
Macedonia have nine men behind the ball, with Pandev and strike partner Nestorovski lurking around the half-way line, waiting for a counter-attack but no joy yet. It's been a quiet first 10 minutes - well quiet as far as the match goes, but the Macedonia fans are making plenty of noise.
Big surprise here as Busquets goes to ground clutching his face after Pandev's hand briefly brushed it. Superb footballer, but an embarrassment at times.
Shot! We've seen our first sight of Diego Costa as his tame shot is deflected wide for a corner, which is taken by Isco but Macedonia clear.
Macedonia are roared forward by their thousands of fans following a great pass by Pandev, but Ristovski, deep in Spain's half, plays the wrong ball and the attack breaks down.
Goal! Macedonia 0-1 Spain (David Silva)
We said Spain had plenty of magicians in their first XI, and two of them are involved. Iniesta plays a wonderful scooped ball over the top of Macedonia's defence for Carvajal, who pulls it back for Silva. The Man City man goes to shoot on his left, but swivels and then passes past the keeper with his right foot. Wonderful composure. Wonderful goal. Wonderful player.
Shot! Spain have their tails up now as Isco's thumping effort from outside the box is well caught by Dimitriveski. It could be a long night for Macedonia.
Diego Costa really is a nutcase. He has just pushed Nestrovski before a corner was taken. Seconds before that, he said something to another Macedonian defender who was gesticulating to the referee about a corner decision. He's mad, but entertaining.
Shot! Isco ignores the movement of his team-mates and goes for goal himself, but he fires well over from outside the box. It's all Spain, my friends. Macedonia haven't got an answer.
You can see why Goran Pandev has played for the likes of Inter and Napoli. He's got a certain class about him and the Macedonia fans release loud gasps of air when he does something special.
Goal! Macedonia 0-2 Spain (Diego Costa)
Spain double their lead and it's one of the easiest goals Diego Costa will score. It's great work from Isco to beat the Macedonia left-back, before the Real Madrid man squares across the face of goal and Costa taps it into the roof of the net.
Isco's brilliant, isn't he? He's been Spain's best player in this first half-an-hour or so, constantly involved and constantly a threat.
Well there's not many Spain fans in attendance, but those who have made the trip are obviously enjoying themselves, swinging scarves around their head and singing songs.
Shot! Just a wee warning sign for Spain there as Ristovski, running on to a ball from Pandev, screws narrowly wide of David de Gea's post. Good thing is, the Macedonia fans really responded to the miss and they're back making a bit of noise following a fairly flat last 10 minutes.
Booking! Goran Pandev goes into the book for a foul on Busquets and the Macedonia fans take it badly as boos ring around the stadium again. They're right to boo - it was a terible decision. It was a foul but nothing more.
If Macedonia score tonight the roof will come off this place. Well, there is no roof, but you'll be able to hear them in Albania and Kosovo if it happens.
Five minutes until the break and Spain will want to wrap it up before the whistle. It's wrapped up already more or less, because Macedonia won't be getting once let alone twice, but a third would really deflate them.
Shot! Brilliant football from Spain. It's a superb backheel from Costa which releases Alba down the left-hand side, as the Barcelona man pulls back for Isco who drives just wide. Isco will score before the night is out - it's a certainty.
Half time: Macedonia 0-2 Spain
That's that for the first half, folks. Spain lead 2-0 thanks to goals from Premier League duo David Silva and Diego Costa. If it stays like this then they'll get the headlines, but Isco, who bagged a fine assist for the second, has been La Roja's stand-out player so far. He's a class act who will probably find the net before the night is out.
Kickoff! Right so we're back underway in Skopje, my friends. Spain, leading 2-0 from a one-sided first half, kick us off.
Shot! In fairness to Macedonia they're not lying down - and why would they? It's a World Cup qualifier. Pandev fires wide again in a miss which reinvigorates the fans.
My Macedonian is a bit rusty, but the home fans are shouting something in unison. It's quite intimidating actually, but Spain don't look like they give a you know what as they continue to knock it around.
Macedonia might have a chance here as Thiago fouls the impressive Pandev, but let's see what happens.
Well that was a waste. Nestorovski swings the ball into the box, but it's over hit and flies out for a goal kick. Really, really poor.
Macedonia fans are losing faith. You can tell this because in the first half they would boo every decision which went against their side - even if it was the right one - but now they're not bothered. Isco is just fouled and wins a free kick, but there's not a peep from them.
Update! Incidentally, Italy are also beating Liechenstein 2-0. Seems like they're labouring a bit if the scoreline is anything to go by. It's in Italy, and it's against Liechenstein so fans would've been expecting six or seven there.
Chance! Good lord how is it not 3-0? It's a superb cross in from Iniesta to find Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique, but the big centre-back heads over the bar from about 10 yards out.
Booking! Oh, we spoke too soon. Macedonia fans liven back up again, just to boo Diego Costa who gets involved in a brief scuffle with Daniel Mojsov, who is booked.
Goal! Macedonia 1-2 Spain (Stefan Ristovski)
What....a.....goal. Take a bow Mr Ristovski. It's a deft flick-on from Pandev and Ristovski punishes Spain's high defensive line, showing Ramos a clean pair of heels as he gallops some 30 yards before smashing past David de Gea from a tricky angle. Wow.
Substitute: David Silva is withdrawn for Chelsea man Pedro. Silva was booked moments after the goal.
Spain are getting a bit frustrated and they need to keep their heads. Diego Costa is probably the most serene of all the Spanish lads at the moment, which I feel says a lot.
Sub: Where has Isco been? We've barely mentioned him in this half, to the point where we forgot he was even playing. But he survives the chop as Thiago is replaced by Koke.
Fifteen minutes to go and Macedonia have a fair bit of time in which to salvage something here, but will they? It's hard to see, but you never know in football.
Busquets fouls Stefan Spiroveski, and then has the gaul to suggest the 17-year-old dived. He did, but you've been doing that since 2010 Mr Biscuits so pipe down pal. The free kick comes to nothing, so Spain survive.
Booking! It's getting a little feisty as Elif Elmas, on his Macedonia debut, is booked. He's only 17 and perhaps a bit too eager to impress - or maybe he, like everybody, just wants the chance to injure Busquets.
Imaginery klaxon! That's the sound indicating there is only 10 minutes left. Spain look in control, but they also looked firmly in control just moments before they conceded, so we can't pay much heed to that I'm afraid. Still, I'd be surprised if they didn't win this.
Isco takes a tumble in the box, but it was actually just an innocent slip. He's coming back into the game a little bit more now, having been anonymous for virtually the entire half.
Five minutes to go and there isn't much to report. Spain are expertly killing this. They're settling for a one-goal win, which is a compliment to Macedonia. They've been very decent in the second half.
Spain have a chance to kill this off for good now, with La Roja eye up a free kick just outside the box. There's about four Spanish lads around it, but it's going to be Ramos. He's pulled rank...
Well, that was poor. Ramos's free kick bounces off somebody's face and Macedonia clear. Whatever happens, Macedonia have done themselves proud.
Full time: Macedonia 1-2 Spain Well, Macedonia gave the Spaniards something to think about with Ristovski's second-half cracker, but it wasn't enough to deprive the Group G leaders of what was a hard-earned three points - much harder than it should've been after Spain bossed the first half and led 2-0. Anyways, that's it for us. Cheers for tuning in and enjoy your week!