Spain wary of Belarus in World Cup qualifier

Associated Press Modified: October 10, 2012 at 7:32 am •  Published: October 10, 2012

LONDON (AP) — A club side from Belarus caused one of the biggest surprises in Champions League history last week. Now, the country's national team has a chance to spring another against world champion Spain.

Belarus, without a point from two Group I games and the world's 87th-ranked team, hosts Spain in one of the biggest mismatches of Friday's World Cup qualifiers.

The Spanish have won their last 23 qualifying matches, stretching back more than five years, but are wary of their opponents in light of BATE Borisov's 3-1 victory over German club Bayern Munich in a Champions League group match on Oct. 2.

"BATE is a team that looks to hit on the counterattack," said Spain defender Javi Martinez, who played for Bayern in its loss to a side containing several Belarus internationals. "They are physically very strong and they don't concede many scoring chances. I imagine (Belarus) will play the same way.

"Everyone wants to beat us," Martinez added. "It is an extra motivation for them, and we have to keep that in mind."

A win for Spain would bring Vicente del Bosque's team level on points with France, which isn't in action on Friday, ahead of their highly anticipated meeting on Tuesday.

Of Europe's other major powers, Italy has made the least convincing start to qualifying after only edging past Malta before being held 2-2 by Bulgaria in Group B.

The Azzurri, thrashed 4-0 by Spain in this year's European Championship final, travel to Armenia while England and the Netherlands should pile up the goals in home matches against San Marino (Group H) and Andorra (Group D), respectively.

Portugal, whose star forward Cristiano Ronaldo appears to have overcome a shoulder injury, has the toughest task of the continent's big guns when it visits Russia in a match between teams with two straight wins in Group F. Germany, also perfect after two games, could have it tough in its match at Ireland in Group C, too.

Spain last failed to win a qualifying match for either the World Cup or European Championship in September 2007, when it drew 1-1 with Iceland in Reykjavik.

Since then, the team has won an unprecedented three straight major tournaments and began its bid for a fourth by beating Georgia 1-0 last month.

Del Bosque's squad will return to eastern Europe this week with problems in defense, with first-choice center backs Carles Puyol (elbow) and Gerard Pique (foot) out injured.

That has led to a recall for Martinez — the only new addition to the squad — who will fight with Raul Albiol for a place alongside Sergio Ramos at the heart of the defense.

Any worries about fallout from Sunday's "clasico" between leading Spanish teams Barcelona and Real Madrid were, for the first time in a long time, ill-founded.

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