2018 World Cup qualifying fixtures: Julen Lopetegui wants Spain to show ‘we have the desire to compete’
Newly appointed Spain manager Julen Lopetegui wants a show of intent from his side in their first 2018 World Cup qualifier at home to Liechtenstein on Monday.
Spain crashed out in disappointing fashion to Italy at Euro 2016 just two months ago and will come against the same opponent once more in a heavyweight Group G battle for the only guaranteed spot in Russia.
Liechtenstein’s visit to Leon should prove a gentle start to qualifying, but Lopetegui wants a performance to match an impressive 2-0 friendly win away to Belgium on his debut in charge on Thursday.
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“It is the first competitive match and it has to show that we have the desire to compete,” said the former Porto manager on Sunday. “We need to start strongly in the competition.”
Lopetegui is expected to name the same side that started in Brussels other than the introduction of Diego Costa for Alvaro Morata up front.
Costa impressed after replacing the injured Real Madrid striker after just 27 minutes in Belgium.
However, Lopetegui hopes to have Morata fit to call upon if needed after shaking off a right thigh problem.
“He will test himself in training today and we will see if he can play against Liechtenstein.”
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Gibraltar dreaming big
With a population of just 33,000 and barely any professional players, Gibraltar would need a miracle to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, but Fifa’s newest member is still dreaming big.
Gibraltar finally won a long battle with Fifa in June when they were accepted alongside Kosovo to join the European qualification stages for the World Cup, starting with Tuesday’s home clash with Euro 2004 winners Greece.
Despite fierce opposition from neighbouring Spain due to the political standoff over Gibraltar’s status as an overseas British territory, it has been a member of Uefa since 2013.
However, it was only after a successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over Fifa’s refusal to accept Gibraltar’s bid for membership in 2014 that football’s governing body finally backed down.
“Fifa membership was hugely important for the development of the national team,” Dennis Beiso, the general secretary of the Gibraltar Football Association told Agence France-Presse.
“Had we not acquired Fifa membership earlier this year, it would have meant the national team would have had to wait until 2018 for competitive international football.
“This would have been a sporting nonsense — the national team would be eligible to participate in Uefa competitions, but excluded from Fifa competitions resulting in alternating two-year cycles with and without international football.
“Thankfully, common sense has prevailed and our national team is able to benefit from a normal programme of international competition.”
While the battle has been won off the field, there is plenty of work to be done to make Gibraltar competitive on the pitch. Ten defeats and 56 goals conceded from their 10 Euro 2016 qualifiers proved a baptism of fire.
However, there were brief flurries of hope. Lee Casciaro netted the nation’s first competitive goal at Hampden Park against Scotland, while many more experienced and established sides have suffered heavier defeats than the 4-0 loss away to world champions Germany.
Kosovo players remain in limbo as they await Fifa decision
Despite several potential players remaining in “limbo”, Kosovo will make history on Monday, playing their first competitive match in a World Cup qualifier against Finland.
Kosovo became the 210th member of Fifa in May, but excitement ahead of the Balkans outfit’s historic match has been marred by questions over who will be allowed to play for the team.
According to Fifa’s rules, someone who has played for another national team cannot normally switch allegiance, so several of Kosovo’s potential players have had to apply individually for special permission, which is still awaited.
“It is unprecedented as they played for other national teams while Kosovo was not a member of Fifa ... Now they should be given this opportunity like everyone else,” the head of Kosovo’s football association Fadil Vokrri told Agence France-Presse.
“Fifa should allow a one-off exemption for Kosovo.”
A Fifa spokesman said the various applications “are currently pending and being investigated” but he could not give an estimation of how long the decision process would take.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Belgrade in 2008 and remains unrecognised by several countries, including Serbia and Russia.
Serbia vehemently opposed Kosovo’s admittance to world governing body Fifa, which came soon after Europe’s governing body Uefa narrowly approved their membership.
“It is a dream coming true,” midfielder Alban Muja wrote on his Facebook page. He intends to play for Kosovo after switching from Albania.
A total of 24 players with roots in Kosovo currently play for six other national teams.
Most of them play for Albania, who are mourning the decision of four players so far from their European Championship squad earlier this summer to play for Kosovo.
Others include Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj, Finland’s Perparim Hetemaj and Sweden’s Arber Zeneli, who all await the green light from Fifa.
All times UAE
Monday, September 5
• Georgia v Austria, 8pm
• Serbia v Rep of Ireland, 10.45pm
• Wales v Moldova, 10.45pm
• Albania v Macedonia, 10.45pm
• Israel v Italy, 10.45pm
• Spain v Liechtenstein, 10.45pm
• Croatia v Turkey, 10.45pm
• Finland v Kosovo, 10.45pm
• Ukraine v Iceland, 10.45pm
Tuesday, September 6
• Belarus v France, 10.45pm
• Bulgaria v Luxembourg, 10.45pm
• Sweden v Netherlands, 10.45pm
• Andorra v Latvia, 10.45pm
• Faroe Islands v Hungary, 10.45pm
• Switzerland v Portugal, 10.45pm
• Bosnia-Herzegovina v Estonia, 10.45pm
• Cyrpus v Belgium, 10.45pm
• Gibraltar v Greece, 10.45pm
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Updated: September 5, 2016 04:00 AM