Spain limps into their second Euro 2012 qualifiers against Lithuania, as injuries forced five of their usual call-ups from participating in La Furia Roja’s two upcoming fixtures. Cèsc Fabregas, Fernando Torres, Pedro Rodríguez, and Jesús Navas all have different knocks and nicks, but the man that Vicente del Bosque will miss the most is the conductor of both FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team, Xavi Hernández.
The Spanish press has been badgering the squad about the absence of Xavi, and understandably, they have been on the defensive. Carlos Marchena believes that Spain is not overdependent on Xavi, and Gerard Piqué stated that while Xavi is an irreplaceable cog to the Spanish machine, players like Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, and Andrés Iniesta can replace him for this short stretch.
Spain will host Lithuania on Friday at the Estadio El Helmántico in Salamanca, and with its capacity hovering just over 17,000 spectators, the stadium chosen by the RFEF (Royal Spanish Football Federation) shows that the federation does not consider this qualifier as a grade A matchup. Vicente del Bosque and the players, however, insist that they are not taking Lithuania lightly, saying all the right statements to diffuse any notion that Spain is merely dismissing this match as a walkover.
They should not overlook Lithuania because they have been unbeaten in their two qualifiers, holding Scotland to a 0-0 draw and coming away with a 0-1 surprise in the Czech Republic against the team many consider the second favorite in Group I. La Liga followers will most recognize Marius Stankevicius, a versatile defender who played for Sevilla on loan last season and is currently on loan to Valencia this season.
Lithuania will rely on their veteran leadership of their captain and all-time leading goal-scorer Tomas Danilevicius, who has scored a respectable nineteen goals in fifty-nine appearances for the national team, the rock in central defense and all-time cap leader Andrius Skerla, and the creative and hard-working orchestrator in the middle of the field Edgaras Cesnauskis.
For what it is worth, Spain has won three of their four prior meetings against Lithuania, the one being a draw at Lithuania during the 2006 World Cup qualification. Especially away from home, Lithuania will flood their own half with all ten outfield players and try to keep a clean sheet while capitalizing on the one or two counter-attacks Spain will afford them. Vicente del Bosque has experimented with a 4-4-2 formation without Xavi available, featuring Fernando Llorente and David Villa up front. On paper, Spain should have no problem against a team that has some decent credentials, but Lithuania will carry the confidence from defeating the Czech Republic in Olomouc, and whenever there is little space in which to work, Spain will find it hard to scythe Lithuania’s disciplined and organized defense and midfield.
The times listed are Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and include the pregame pleasantries.
Spain vs. Lithuania – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3