Spain eyes Brazil in double-header

La Roja hosts Finland before a potentially decisive showdown in France next week

Spain's players José Reina (L), Juan Mata (C) and David Villa attend a training session at El Molinón stadium on Thursday.
Spain's players José Reina (L), Juan Mata (C) and David Villa attend a training session at El Molinón stadium on Thursday.ELOY ALONSO (REUTERS)

There seems to be little Finland will be able to do to stop Spain taking all three points in Gijón on Friday night in the Group I World Cup qualifier (8.45pm on Telecinco). La Roja is the top-ranked side in the world, on a run of 18 matches without defeat and the reigning world and European champion; Finland ranks 87th, has won three of its last nine games, has never qualified for a major tournament and hasn't beaten Spain since 1969.

That said, Finland is a compact side with a touch of flair in the boots of Schalke 04 forward Teemu Pukki and goalscoring experience in the form of ex-Chelsea striker Mikael Forssell and defensive marshal Niklas Moisander, the captain of Ajax, who scored against both Real Madrid and Manchester City in the Champions League earlier this season. France squeaked past Mixu Paatelainen's side 1-0 in the last round of qualifiers and as Teemu Tainio, another former Premier League player with Tottenham, said on the national team's website: "We will not build any castles in the air, but we will make it very nasty for Spain to win."

"Spain is clearly the best team in the world. It will be a truly difficult game but good for the development of our players," noted Paatelainen, who is without suspended set-piece specialist Alexei Eremenko.

Cesc Fàbregas is vying for a start in the middle of a liquid front three

Spain has been reinforced by the return of David Villa after a lengthy absence through injury. The Barcelona striker, who is Spain's record scorer with 53 goals, may find himself starting from the bench, though, as Del Bosque might again opt for a false nine, which has worked so well for his side in the past. That would mean Cesc Fàbregas vying for a start in the middle of a liquid front three, with David Silva on one side and Pedro on the other. Much like Álvaro Negredo, Roberto Soldado and Fernando Torres, who was omitted from the squad entirely, Villa might have to be patient in search of minutes in the red shirt.

Villa, back at the ground where he started his career with Sporting Gijón, knows all about the vocal support the team will get on Friday. And so do Finland after 16,000 fans turned up to watch the teams train on the Molinón turf on Thursday evening.

Although the right sort of noises about not underestimating Finland and concentrating on one game at a time have issued from the Spain camp, there is little doubt that the next match, against France, is the one on everybody's mind. The two nations are tied on seven points each with five games to go; the likely automatic qualifier for Brazil 2014 will be either team that emerges from the Stade de France with three points on Tuesday. In the return match in Spain, the spoils were shared in a 1-1 tie. However, the possibility of dropped points on tricky road trips to Belarus and Georgia in France's case — an 86th minute Soldado goal was required to diffuse the home side's resistance when Spain visited Tbilisi — cannot be ruled out, while La Roja faces just one more away day, September's return match in Helsinki.

Portugal faces a tough task to qualify automatically from Group F and in all likelihood will once again face a playoff round to book its place in the draw for Brazil.

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