x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A second string is a luxury Spain do not have

The world champions' contract with Mexico specifies that at least 60 per cent of the World Cup players should travel there - 14 of the 23 who were in South Africa.

Tonight's round of international friendlies mark a month since the World Cup ended in South Africa with Spain's injury-time victory in the final over Holland. While South Africa are preparing to mark the occasion with a match against Ghana - the best-performing African team at the tournament - at Johannesburg's Soccer City, the venue of the final, Spain face a controversial trip to Mexico. The world champions' contract with Mexico - for which the Central Americans paid US$1 million (Dh3.67m) - specifies that at least 60 per cent of the World Cup players should travel there - 14 of the 23 who were in South Africa.

That means that, unlike many international managers this week, Vicente del Bosque has not had the option of selecting a second string squad. To the anger of Barcelona, he has called up seven of their players for the long trip, even though they face Sevilla in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Saturday. Bert van Marwijk, coach of losing finalists Holland, has no such problems. Just Michel Vorm, the goalkeeper, remains from his World Cup squad for the match against Ukraine in Donetsk.

Elsewhere, Steven Gerrard, the England captain, admits his side deserve to be jeered by supporters during their friendly against Hungary at Wembley tonight. England are expected to be given a tough time by fans following their disappointing World Cup campaign in South Africa. Gerrard told a press conference: "I'm expecting a mixed reaction. I'm sure there'll be boos but we have to take it on the chin. We deserve it, we let them down."

Asked if he would boo the national team, he added: "I probably would." Thomas Hitzlsperger will captain Germany in their friendly match against Denmark, temporarily halting a row between Michael Ballack and Philipp Lahm, both of whom will miss the game. Ballack, who joined former club Bayer Leverkusen from Chelsea earlier this summer, has said he expects to be given back the captaincy when he plays again for Germany again, while Lahm, who led the side in the World Cup, wants to remain in the role.

Robbie Keane says he still gets the same buzz playing for Republic of Ireland as when he made his debut 12 years ago as he gets set to win his 100th cap against Argentina tonight. "I still have that buzz and enthusiasm for the game. I always want to play for my country," said Keane. "I love playing for my country, I love coming back, and I don't think that will ever change." * Agencies