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Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Monday, 11 October 2010 11:26 UK

Can Scotland avoid Spain pain?

SCOTLAND v SPAIN - Euro 2012 qualifying
Venue: Hampden Date: Tuesday 12 October Kick-off: 2000 BST Coverage: BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Sport website. Highlights on BBC One Scotland at 2305 BST.

Fernando Llorente
Fernando Llorente could pose a significant threat to Scotland at Hampden

By Alasdair Lamont

As Scotland - new formation and all - were fighting an ultimately losing battle in Prague, two members of Craig Levein's backroom team were already turning their attention to Tuesday's home match against Spain.

Levein had despatched his chief scout Mick Oliver, along with Des McKeown, to take in Spain's qualifier against Lithuania in Salamanca.

By now, they will have reported back to Levein and his assistant Peter Houston on Spain's 3-1 victory.

And it is unlikely their dossier will have made heartening reading for the Scotland manager as he attempts to come up with a plan of how to take something from the meeting with the champions of Europe and the world.

"Craig," they might say. "The good news is that Spain are missing four players, who would walk into just about any team (Fernando Torres, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fabregas) and they allowed Lithuania at least three good opportunities to score on Friday night."

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"The bad news is, they scarcely missed those four, and they could have scored 10 if their finishing had been a wee bit more clinical."

Levein would have known beforehand that the report on Spain's weaknesses would fit comfortably on a packet of cigarillos.

So are there any chinks in the armour of Vicente del Bosque's side?

Defensively, they are not infallible. Because they are on the attack almost incessantly, they are at times exposed on the counter-attack.

On Friday, their full-backs - Sergio Ramos on the right and Joan Capdevila on the left - played much of the game on the front foot and in the opposition's half. Indeed, Ramos supplied crosses for two of his side's three goals.

But with that pair so intent on attacking, and Sergio Busquets the only midfielder with defensive duties in mind, the Lithuanians found that swift breaks brought them three good chances to score, one of which was taken.

It does not require the most astute football analyst to predict that Scotland, like Lithuania, will spend much of the evening trying to keep Spain at bay, and will almost certainly have to rely on break-away situations to have any chance of scoring, at least from open play.

Therein lies something of a conundrum for the Scotland manager. For those counter-attacks to have the highest chance of success, they must be carried out in numbers, to expose the central defensive partners Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.

Allan McGregor
Keeper Allan McGregor will have to be at his best against Spain on Tuesday

But, if the Scots are thwarted on these ventures forward, Spain are also masters of the swift response, and could easily take full advantage of gaps left by the hosts.

Realistically, for Scotland to take even a point on Tuesday, they will have to put in an incredibly disciplined performance, defend as though their lives depend on it, rely on Allan McGregor being on top form, and also carry no little amount of good fortune.

Spain, while not functioning at 100% of their abilities against Lithuania, moved the ball about beautifully, triangular passing movements frequently leaving their opponents chasing shadows.

I counted nine clear-cut goalscoring chances in the first half - none of them converted, with Barcelona striker David Villa, mystifyingly, guilty of the most glaring misses.

They were not so profligate in the second period, and surely will not be so at Hampden on Tuesday.

Fernando Llorente - leading the strikeforce in the absence of Torres - scored two second-half headers and will almost certainly be employed by Del Bosque in the same position in Glasgow.

The towering Athletic Bilbao striker will prove a handful for the Scottish defence, for he offers an aerial threat in addition to a good touch on the ground.

With Villa and David Silva supporting him from wide areas, and Andres Iniesta weaving his magic in the centre of the park, Scotland have plenty to contend with.

Santi Cazorla was also an impressive performer against the Lithuanians, but he could be sacrificed for the fit-again Xabi Alonso, who would slot in alongside Busquets in what the Spanish refer to as a 'doble-pivote', i.e. two holding midfielders, while the rest have licence to roam forward.

There are few teams on earth who could cope quite so comfortably with the absence of Xavi and Torres.

Perhaps with the help of his spies, Craig Levein can come up with a plan to cause them some discomfort on Tuesday.



see also
Scotland 2-3 Spain
12 Oct 10 |  Scotland
Miller to bounce back - McCulloch
10 Oct 10 |  Scotland
Spain ready for negative Scotland
11 Oct 10 |  Scotland
Cazorla on guard against Scotland
10 Oct 10 |  Scotland
Scots still on course - Caldwell
09 Oct 10 |  Scotland
Levein's Scots fail to impress
09 Oct 10 |  Scotland


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