LA ROJA MOVE A STEP CLOSER TO EURO 2016 BUT CRASH OUT OF THE WOMEN'S WORLD CUP
The Spanish Week in Review
Spain won 1-0 at Belarus last Sunday night to stay on course for France next summer and a defence of their European Championship crown.
David Silva confirmed his emergence as the best weapon of la selección by grabbing the only goal on the stroke of half-time.
A wet night in Eastern Europe was never going to be an easy ride and Spain had to fight for their win against a determined and often physical, if limited opponent.
Iker Casillas made a couple of key saves in the second half to prevent an equaliser but Alvaro Morata equally missed a chance at the other end.
Spain enjoyed two-thirds of possession and topped their hosts for shots on target eleven to two and off-target ten to two. They played 693 passes to Belarus' 310. So they were worthy winners but it was no plain sailing.
Vicente del Bosque, in his 100th match in charge, summed up the night: "Things are not going too badly."
He went on to identify some tactical points to work on: "Against teams which shut up shop at the back," he said, "it is good to keep control. What we are lacking is pace when things are static and in transition."
Del Bosque will call it a day after Euro 2016. He has already won everything that counts but a final hurrah in France would be a fitting send-off for the national team's most successful manager of all time.
SPAIN: Casillas, Ramos, Alba, Pique, Busquets, Fabregas (sub Isco 75), Cazorla, JuanFran, Pedro (sub Vitolo 65), Morata, Silva (sub Bernat 85). Goal: Silva (45)
Subs not used: De Gea, Rico, Carvajal, Bartra, San Jose, Koke, Nolito, Alcacer, Vidal
Manager: Vicente del Bosque
While Slovakia still head the group by three points following their 2-1 result against Macedonia,
Ukraine's 3-0 win at home to Luxembourg keeps them breathing down Spain's necks, three points behind but with a home game against La Roja in October.
Automatic qualification is thus far from assured but a draw or win in Kiev in the Autumn should be enough to bag a place in the top two and a ticket to France.
Spain can take points off group leaders Slovakia at home in September and then visit Ukraine in their final qualifier.
Group C after six games
1. Slovakia 18 pts GD +10
2. Spain 15 pts GD + 12
3. Ukraine 12 pts GD +7
4. Belarus 4 pts GD -7
5. Macedonia 3 pts GD -8
6. Luxembourg 1 pt GD -14
5th Sep Spain v Slovakia
8th Sep Macedonia v Spain
9th Oct Spain v Luxembourg
12th Oct Ukraine v Spain
PLAYOFFS FOR LA PRIMERA
* After their miraculous comeback in the semi-final (lost 3-0 at home, won 4-1 away to Girona), Real Zaragoza maintained their fairytale run.
La Romareda stadium was on fire again as Los Blanquillos staged another emotional comeback, reacting to going a goal down at home to Las Palmas in the final first leg to win 3-1 in the end.
With the Aragon side in touching distance of La Primera having scraped into the playoffs on the final day of the season in sixth place, a point ahead of Ponferradina, their confidence was evinced by them bringing on 40-year old Juan Carlos Valeron in the 64th minute.
Zaragoza then flew to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria on Sunday for the second leg, but their unexpected dream came to an end as the side from the Canary Islands triumphed 2-0 to win on away goals and book the third and final spot in La Primera next season.
Roque Mesa gave the home side a first half lead but the Yellows could not make their superiority pay until the 84th minute, when Argentine U-23 striker Sergio Araujo volleyed in a second to set off wild celebrations, which turned into predictable ecstasy a few minutes later.
Zaragoza must lick their wounds and regroup for another attempt at regaining the Primera status they lost two seasons ago, while Las Palmas return to the top flight for the first time since 2002.
La Primera: Relegated: Eibar, Almeria and Cordoba
Liga Adelante: Promoted: Real Betis, Sporting Gijon, Las Palmas.
Relegated: Barcelona B, Sabadell, Recreativo Huelva and Racing Santander.
IN OTHER NEWS...
Barcelona, lest we forget, are ditching their 115-year heritage by playing in hoops next season;
* Neymar has dominated much of the news for his hissy fit at the Copa America which earned him a rather generous four-match ban for Brazil after assaulting and insulting the referee against Colombia. Back in Spain however he has extended his stay at the Camp Nou until 2020 in a deal worth €12 million per annum.
* The players union LFP have published their La Liga team of the season:
Goalkeeper: Claudio Bravo (Barcelona)
Defenders: Jordi Alba, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique (all Barcelona), Nicolas Otamendi (Valencia)
Midfielders: Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla), James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
with Luis Enrique the coach of course. Just imagine Messi and Ronaldo together up front...
* La Liga players predictably made up the lion's share of the Champions League squad of the season. 12 of the 18 players selected by UEFA's Technical Observers ply their trade in Spain: Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, Ivan Rakitic, Toni Kroos, Andres Iniesta, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. Alvaro Morata was also chosen.
* Around 70,000 piled into the Bernabeu to see Real Madrid legends beat Liverpool's 4-2, with Jerzy Dudek, Steve McManaman, Fernando Morientes and Michael Owen playing for both sides. Roberto Carlos scored a brace for Real, who featured Zinedine Zidane, Clarence Seedorf and even Emilio Butragueno.
Liverpool featured Spaniards Luis Garcia and Abel Xavier as well as Phil Thompson and Ian Rush from their golden years at the start of the 1980s.
* Spain are tenth again in FIFA's latest World Rankings.
* Half of Real Madrid fans polled would sell Cristiano Ronaldo if an offer of between €100 and €150 million came in.
The galactico has just had an actual galaxy named after him. Astronomers working in observatories in Chile and Hawaii have named a cluster of ancient stars "CR7", as they are three times brighter than equivalent galaxies.
* Gareth Bale has had a frustrating season marooned in midfield and Rafael Benitez is planning to play him on the left in a trident behind Ronaldo.
After another match-winning performace for Wales, where he scored the only goal to defeat Belgium, Spain's vast Real following are openly wondering again if another slack season awaits teh Cardiffian in the white shirts. The big difference is that Wales are based around him, and he has liberty to roam wearing red.
Five goals in six for Wales is notably better than the 13 in 31 he scored for Real this season, but the idea that he could replicate his national team role with Ronaldo and other galacticos around him is far-fetched.
* Dani Alves has signed a two-year extension at Barcelona only a month after saying he did not feel respected at the Camp Nou and soon after the blaugrana signed Sevilla's right-sided Aleix Vidal.
Alves looked sure to leave, especially after his tearful 'farewell' in the title celebrations, but had performed excellently in the season's crucial, final games, a flourish which must have twisted the club's arm. "I couldn't imagine a changing room without you!!!", tweeted Ivan Rakitic.
* Lionel Messi allegedly turned down the man-of-the-match award for Argentina against Paraguay in the Copa America after the Albiceleste conceded a last-minute equalizer. Paraguay's Haedo Valdez got the gong instead. The little flea was doubtless fed up with awards for disappointing results, following his rather unmerited player of the tournament prize at the World Cup Finals.
* Mario Mandzukic has left Atletico Madrid for Juventus for an €18 million fee and a four-year deal. The Croatian striker's arrival in Turin means one of Juve's two Spanish forwards Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Morata could be heading back across the Mediterranean.
There is also now a vacant striker slot at the Manzanares. Expectations remain high after some illustrious boots have scored goals for the Colchoneros in recent years: Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, Falcao, Diego Forlan, Maxi Rodriguez, Fernando Torries and David Villa.
* Jose Antonio Reyes has signed a new two-year deal at Sevilla, turning down offers from the Middle East. His club have in turn sold striker Iago Aspas to Celta Vigo.
* Sevilla have also agreed terms with Chelsea for Gael Kakuta.
* 109, 637 members of FC Barcelona are eligible to vote in this summer's presidential election on the 18th of July. Former boss Joan Laporta is standing against current incumbent Josep Bartomeu.
* Former Juventus owner 'Lukcy Luciano' Moggi, who was at the centre of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, told the press this week that Real owner Florentino Perez was planning to sack Carlo Ancelotti this summer whether he won the Champions League or not.
* Sergio Ramos has travelled to Cuba as a UNICEF ambassador
* Striker Juanmi has tied up a €7 million move from Malaga to Southampton.
* 21 year-old Gerard Delofeu is returning to Everton, where he played two seasons ago, for a fee of €6 million. The 21 year-old attacker, who has one cap for Spain, had a disappointing year on loan at Sevilla from Barcelona. Barça retain an option to buy him back for €9 million over the next two seasons.
* The final of Spain's youth cup, the Copa del Rey Juvenil will take place on the 27th of June in Ceuta and is an all Madrid derby between Real and Rayo Vallecano.
WOMEN'S WORLD CUP
* Spain's women finished last in their group and exited the tournament at the first hurdle. La selección femenina started with a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica but then lost 1-0 to Brazil and 2-1 to South Korea in their do-or-die match.
Veronica Boquete opened the scoring for Spain in Ottawa but the Koreans netted two second-half goals, the second a golazo from outside the box, to send the first-time entrants towards the exit. Spain had needed a win and went down fighting, hitting the bar with a free kick in the closing stages, but were beaten by a better side in the end.
Spanish women's football has been slow taking off compared to France, Italy or the northern European nations' but this first World Cup finals appearance was a big step in the right direction.
* Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri has said his club should only accept an offer for Alvaro Morata if it is in the range of €70-80 million. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are said to be willing to pay that sum.
* Barcelona were said to have paid €3 million to Fluminense to have first refusal on their Brazilian U-20 midfielder Gerson. The blaugrana could snap him and teammate Kenedy up in the New Year when their transfer ban expires.
* Milan have made an offer to buy Atletico Madrid schemer Arda Turan. The Turk has a release clause of €41 million
* Another Turk attracting Spanish eyes is Bursaspor's Turkish international defender Ozan Tufan. Atletico and Valencia are interested in buying the 20 year-old.
*Atletico are certainly the centre of most transfer attention. Brazilian defender Miranda was again linked with Manchester United, but also with Inter, who are alleged to be offering more money.
* PSG were said to have offered €40 million for Atletico striker Antoine Griezmann. The 24 year-old french international has yet to play for a club in his homeland.
* Sergio Ramos to Manchester United for €65 million was a rumour late in the week as the Spanish international has murmured discontent at his lack of a wage hike at Real Madrid, but equally with David De Gea constantly linked with a move in the opposite direction but nothing happening, it could well have been a fill-in-the-gaps hacks' exercise.
Ramos has been at the club for a decade and as a solid part of La Roja as well, is a fan favourite.
* Rafa Benitez has asked Real to buy Lazio's Argentinian international midfielder Lucas Biglia, valued at €25 million as well as Inter's Argentine striker Mauro Icardi.
* Juventus are favourites to sign Barcelona's second-choice right-back Martin Montoya.
* Liverpool are weighing up a €15 million raid on Keylor Navas if David De Gea moves to the Bernabeu. The Reds are also said to be mulling over a €22 million offer for Real defenzive midfielder Asier Illarramendi.
* Valencia are hoping to sign Real Sociedad's Argentine goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli but Manchester City could pip them to his signing and loan the player back to Valencia. Valencia are also looking to sign Celta Vigo skipper Augusto Fernandez for €5 million.
* Atletico have been courting Carlos Tevez for a while but Boca Juniors are trying to intercept El Apache during the Copa America in Chile while a bigger offer from PSG is expected too.
Diego Simeone's continued pursuit of Tevez meant they had gone cool on Colombian striker Jackson Martinez, who appeared to have penned a four-year deal with Milan. But later in the week it transpired the deal had not been signed and talk of Atletico and Martinez arose again.
His release clause is €35 million, which seems a little high for someone who is not first choice for his country, but then again his agent is the formidable Jorge Mendes, who represents Jose Mourinho.
Atletico are now said to be vying with Bologna for the signing of Venezuelan striker Jose Salomon Rondon.
Chicharito, unwanted by Manchester United and Real Madrid, is another international striker being linked with Atletico.
* Barça's Marc Bartra is available for only €12 million before the 1st of July when his release clause rockets to €30 million. Liverpool, Manchester City, Inter, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are reportedly ready to swoop for the Spanish international defender.
* Chelsea and Manchester City are waiting in the wings if Pepe does not renew his contract with Real Madrid.
* Spanish target man Fernando Llorente was supposed to be moving from Juventus to Monaco but the move went cold late in the week as the striker was linked with Liverpool.
* Iker Casillas leaving Real Madrid to make way for David De Gea is a never-ending saga. His latest ports of arrival are Arsenal, Tottenham, Roma, Fenerbahce and the New York Cosmos.
Spanish international Juan Mata meanwhile, implied compatriot De Gea was close to the exit at Old Trafford. "He is a friend and I want him to be happy," he told Marca, adding, "From a selfish point of view I would want to have him in my team."
* Atletico Madrid's Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld was again linked with a swap move for Chelsea's Brazilian full-back Filipe Luis, but Tottenham were also reported as being on his tail.
* Sevilla were said to have offered €4 million for Stoke City's Steven N'Zonzi but the Potters turned them down.
* Newly promoted Real Betis are hoping to recruit Villareal's Paraguayan international Hernan Perez.
* Rayo Vallecano are hoping to sign River Plate's Argentine U-20 striker Giovanni Simeone, son of atletico coach Diego.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile