Spain the benchmark for revitalized England


ALICANTE, Spain: England and defending champions Spain’s preparations for next year’s European championships step up a notch when Roy Hodgson’s men travel to Alicante on Friday (Saturday in Manila) defending a proud unbeaten run.

Fifteen games and 17 months have passed since England last tasted defeat when their World Cup in Brazil was brought to an early end after just two games by a Luis Suarez-inspired Uruguay in Sao Paulo.

A perfect qualifying campaign of 10 wins from 10 games for the finals in France ensued, yet a Spanish side also with a point to prove pose the biggest threat to that run yet.

England will also face France at Wembley on Tuesday as they seek tougher tests than they faced in a hassle-free qualifying group to try and avoid recent flops at major tournaments despite impressive qualifying campaigns.

“It’s a good challenge. Obviously the last 12-15 months we’ve gone unbeaten but this week is going to be massive test for us against the big nations in Europe,” Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling said on Wednesday.

“If we can show what we can do here, it is a real bonus for us going into the summer. Hopefully we can do well in these games and get a win.”

By contrast, Spain have won the past two European Championships, but doubts surround La Roja’s case to make it an unprecedented hat-trick in France after an unconvincing qualifying campaign on the back of a disastrous showing at the World Cup.

Spain suffered just the one defeat in qualifying to Slovakia over a year ago. However, their recent form in friendlies against Europe’s traditional powerhouses gives England plenty of room for encouragement after defeats to France, Germany and the Netherlands in the past 14 months.

However, captain Iker Casillas believes Spain are still feared around Europe having claimed three consecutive major tournament victories, including the 2010 World Cup, before their flop in Brazil.

“We are capable of winning a fourth title. Every country wants to win the European Championships and we are going there with the idea of doing that again.

“From afar they see us as champions. They know Spain have a well-formed team and will for sure be among the favorites to win the tournament.”

The biggest selection conundrum for Hodgson and Vicente del Bosque comes up front with doubts over who will lead the line for both countries at the Euros.

Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy may get his chance for the visitors having scored 12 goals in 12 Premier League games this season, including in each of his last nine.

However, Vardy is more likely to start from a wider position with Hodgson expected to keep faith with misfiring captain Wayne Rooney through the middle.

Del Bosque has recalled Chelsea’s Diego Costa despite his poor form at club level and having scored just once in 11 appearances since switching his allegiances from Brazil to Spain.

However, Juventus’ Alvaro Morata is expected to start up front, whilst injuries to David Silva and Isco mean Celta Vigo’s Nolito or Manchester United’s Juan Mata could get a rare chance to impress.



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