Spain looks to avoid a Belarussian shock

Spain looks to avoid a Belarussian shock

LONDON - The Associated Press
Spain looks to avoid a Belarussian shock

Midfielder Andres Iniesta (R) is one of the key members of the Spanish team. EPA photo

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 I games and the world’s 87th-ranked team, hosts Spain in one of the biggest mismatches of tonight’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 Oct. 2.

“BATE is a team that looks to hit on the counterattack,” 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 tonight, ahead of their highly anticipated meeting next week.

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 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 it visits 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.