HomeSportSoccerSpain wary of Belarus in World Cup qualifier

Spain wary of Belarus in World Cup qualifier

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LONDON — 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 1 games and the world’s 87th-ranked team, host Spain in one of the biggest mismatches of today’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 October 2.

“BATE is a team that looks to hit on the counter-attack,” 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 today, 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 they visit 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.

Ronaldo, who scored twice for Madrid, emerged from the match with doubts about the state of his left shoulder after falling heavily on it during the match, but resumed training on Wednesday.

He is expected to play in Moscow along with Madrid teammate Pepe, who is fit after a left thigh problem.

Portugal has started with uninspiring victories over Luxembourg (2-1 away) and Azerbaijan (3-0 after two late goals), while Russia is coming off a 4-0 thrashing of Israel, maintaining their unbeaten run under coach Fabio Capello.

“We’re going through a period of good form, but Russia works well as a team and defends well,” Pepe said Wednesday before the squad left for Moscow. “It’s a very important game, but it won’t be decisive.” —AP

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