INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at Wednesday's friendly international between Spain and Colombia.
Spain v Colombia | Wednesday 20:30
Reports from Spain suggest Wednesday night’s friendly fixture against Colombia in Murcia could see visiting supporters outnumbering Spanish fans in the Estadio Nueva Condomina stands.
The South American country boasts a large and vibrant expatriate population in the country and many are expected to turn out for the match in what’s effectively a warm-up for La Roja’s World Cup qualifying tie in Macedonia on Sunday.
Julen Lopetegui was given the gig as Spanish national team boss almost a year ago now and while the golden generation that dominated world football between 2008 to 2012 has passed, the current vintage is still packed with ambition, desire and ability.
Spain’s squad strength
Real Madrid players Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Morata, Dani Carvajal, Isco, Luis Vasquez and Marco Asensio may have been given extra time off following their Champions League triumph but Lopetegui’s strength in depth still meant the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Marcos Alonso and Ander Herrera were left out of the squad.
La Roja’s head coach is expected to hand Asier Illaramendi and Athletic Bilbao's young goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga debuts at some point but Diego Costa, David Silva and Pedro should all feature whilst Cesar Azpilicueta has been tipped to partner Gerard Pique at centre-back.
La Roja solid favourites
Unbeaten in eight games since Euro 2016, Spain also top their tough World Cup qualification pool on goal difference from Italy. La Roja have kept five clean sheets in those eight encounters and have seen off Israel (4-1) and France (2-0) in their two outings this calendar year.
Although Spain have shipped goals in five of their past seven exhibition matches, it’s worth noting the hosts have also recorded clean sheets in two of their three (W2-D1-L0) friendly fixtures under Lopetegui’s watch, making them solid (if short) 7/12 favourites here.
Colombia unlikely to be in peak condition
Visitors Colombia claimed only two World Cup qualification wins from six following their Copa America Centenario semi-final exit last summer but back-to-back victories over Bolivia and Ecuador earlier this year have put Los Cafeteros back in pole position to reach Russia.
Pekerman is a vastly experienced coach who has helped Colombia through a period of transition. But he’s unlikely to have his team at top speed on Wednesday evening.
Star man James Rodriguez wasn't included in Real Madrid's Champions League final squad but may not be fresh to start following the club's celebrations in the days after their history success. Meanwhile, Juan Cuadrado isn’t expected to feature for the guests either.
If James isn’t on top of his game, Colombia do tend to struggle. In fact, Los Cafeteros have scored only 18 goals in 14 matches whilst using an extraordinary 41 players, suggesting Pekerman is struggling to find a blend.
A slow start
Nevertheless, first-choice centre-backs Oscar Murillo and Yerry Mina are both included in a very experienced squad and with a heatwave gripping Spain, I can’t imagine the hot and sticky conditions will be conducive to an open or attacking encounter.
With that in mind, I’m keen to support a slow and sluggish start in Murcia. We can back the Time Of The First Goal to arrive Over 28:00 minutes at 1/1 with Paddy Power, a selection that’s provided profit in seven of La Roja’s past nine friendly matches.
Spain v Colombia – Time Of First Goal ’Over 28:00’ – (1/1 Paddy Power)