Spain continued their impressive European qualification campaign with an assured 2-0 victory against the Czech Republic in Prague this weekend. Vicente del Bosque's side sit comfortably on top of Group I with a maximum 21 points from seven games and they will be hoping to complete this 100 percent record when they face Scotland at the José Rico Pérez stadium, home of Hércules CF, on Tuesday night.
The Czech Republic game was pinpointed as Spain's most difficult fixture in European qualifying but there was to be no hiccup as del Bosque's team strolled to victory. Despite having already qualified, he resisted the temptation to completely shuffle his pack, fielding a near full-strength side; the only absentees being the Barcelona duo of Cesc Fàbregas and Andrés Iniesta through injury. The 60-year-old manager did however place his faith in Chelsea's inconsistent striker Fernando Torres who vowed to get amongst the goals and finally end his year-long international goal drought. "In the case of Torres, he changed clubs and he's been on a not very positive run," Del Bosque said. "We still believe in him, but there are others who are pressing hard for their shot, so we have to be fair."
However, it was Torres's teammate Juan Mata who would make the early impact as he opened the scoring after just six minutes, collecting a beautifully weighted pass from the intelligent Xavi and slotting past another familiar face from the Chelsea training ground, Petr Cech. It was the perfect start to calm any early nerves and silence the boisterous home support. It was another promising performance from the Chelsea winger, who is vying with Barcelona's Pedro Rodríguez for the starting place in Del Bosque's Euro 2012 line-up.
Spain continued to dominate the early stages of the game and just 17 minutes later they doubled their lead, Xabi Alonso, in his 90th international appearance, sweeping the ball into the left corner of the net after he had been cleverly picked out by David Silva. It was just desserts for their early pressure and the momentum of the Spanish side never looked in any doubt.
Iker Casillas's goal was rarely troubled by the opposition although Milan Baros, golden boot winner of the Euro 2004 tournament, should have converted from Daniel Pudil's cross, but the Galatasaray striker failed to make contact and the glorious chance was squandered. Spain went into the interval with their heads held high, delighted with their first-half display, whereas the Czechs knew that a significant improvement in the second period was necessary if they were to reignite their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2012. They knew that if Scotland were to beat Lithuania, their European destiny would not be in their own hands.
Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos was substituted at half-time as a precautionary measure, replaced by the Barcelona captain Carles Puyol. At the beginning of the second half, chances were few and far between for the sides, forcing Del Bosque to haul off Fernando Torres, who had clearly not done enough to satisfy the national boss. In his place was the all-time leading national goalscorer David Villa, hoping to add more goals to his European tally.
However, the game was brought to life once more after 70 minutes not for a goal but Tomas Hubschmann's reckless tackle on Xabi Alonso. which earned him a red card. The game til then had not been a feisty encounter and the Czech midfielder's shocking tackle brought a dark cloud over an otherwise pleasant football match. Fans and players alike were not surprised by the referee's decision and after a period of lengthy treatment, the Real Madrid midfielder was able to hobble from the pitch, to be replaced by 23 year-old Athletic Bilbao star Javi Martinez. Czech Republic now faced an awful uphill struggle as they failed to cope with Spain's delightful passing and numerical advantage. Javi Martínez almost extended Spain's lead late on but his deflected shot rattled the crossbar.
The result left the Czech players in despair and fearing for their place in Europe's most prestigious international tournament in Poland and Ukraine next summer. They must now defeat Lithuania on Tuesday night and hope that Spain can once again be on top form to overcome Scotland in Alicante the same evening.
Despite being the victim of Hubschmann's horror tackle, Xabi Alonso is hoping to take part in the match and insists that his side will perform to their very best in order to maintain their perfect record. "Can we go easy on Scotland?... We have to be professionals again."
The game is live on Tuesday night from 8.45pm.