all set for Finland!
There are many things to look forward to in tonight’s game (20:45h)! This game will be Sergio Ramos’ 100th with Spain, and he’ll achieve it at the age of 26 years and 358 days, the youngest Spanish player and seventh youngest in the world to do so. This game will also be Vicente del Bosque’s 69th one in charge of La Roja, pushing him past Ladislao Kubala as coach with the most games under his belt. And of course, as the game is being played in Gijón, it will be a homecoming of sorts for La Roja’s three asturianos – PF Juan Mata, David Villa and Santi Cazorla!
Training sessions, the trip to Gijón, press conferences.
On Wednesday, the players were made available to the press, and all of them were in high demand with journalists. There was also time for a video session, and in the afternoon, a training session was held. Xavi remained absent, while Xabi did not complete the session, as he didn’t participate in the mini-game. Sergio Busquets did complete the session, after not doing so the previous day.
On Thursday, the team traveled to Gijón, where they received a warm welcome from La Roja fans both at the airport and at the team hotel. Unsurprisingly, David Villa, PF Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla received the most acclaim, especially David, due to his Sporting de Gijón roots (the other two came up through the ranks of Real Oviedo).
As such, David and PF were picked to give the press conference (along with VDB), which took place at the Gijón city hall. They also met up with authorities, posed with an Asturian flag and received a few presents.
Villa said about the game, “it’s a dream come true, it’s very special to return. From the time I left El Molinón, I dreamed about returning and playing as the home team. I’ve returned as a visitor, and in those times you feel like you’re robbing your own house. Doing it with the national team is different, I had a lot of desire to return. I’m going to achieve a dream that I’ve had since I was small.” Meanwhile, PF Juan Mata said “I’m proud to return home, just like David and Santi. Playing an official game in Asturias makes us feel very happy, as does seeing our family and friends get excited about watching the national team. We’re very happy, hopefully we will win.”
Villa also mentioned Manolo Preciado during the press conference, saying that he wishes he (Manolo) could have been there to watch the game, since he’s sure he would have enjoyed it. We also found out that Villa is helping to get a statue of Manolo built: “collaborating on his statue is an honor. Work has stopped recently and we want to use this visit to activate the project so that we can remember Manolo as he deserves to be remembered.”
Later on in the day, 16,000 fans filled El Molinón for La Roja’s training session. As this was David’s former stomping grounds, the training session became somewhat of a tribute to him.
He also had friends and family, including his dad, in the stands, and at the end of the session, he posed for a photo with his three kids and nieces, all of whom were looking adorable wearing mini-replicas of David’s kit (Zaida and Olaya had “Papi” on the back of their shirts). I have to say, Patricia has some very strong genes.
This is so adorable!
Judging by how the team was divided, the starting line-up will be Valdés, Arbeloa, Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Alba, Busquets, Cazorla, Iniesta, Silva, Villa and Cesc. If this is indeed the line-up, then Sergio will start his 100th game as captain, and the people of Asturias will get to cheer on two hometown heroes (I’m sure VDB will also give PF a few minutes).
The Xabi Alonso pose section.™
Thursday was Jordi Alba’s (24th) birthday, and many of his teammates sent out tweets congratulating him, while Pedrito shared a photo!
Sergio, meanwhile, took one with the asturianos. I love how touchy-feely he is.
And Santi shared a photo of the dedication Sergio wrote for him in his book! It says, “for my brother ‘Cazorcita’ with all my affection and love. In addition to being a magician with the ball, as a person you are unbeatable (I first read it as “insoportable,” or unbearable, jaja!). A big kiss ‘Churrita.'”
Facts, anecdotes and data from Mister Chip!
Goal difference: in the qualifying phase for the 2014 World Cup, if two teams are tied in terms of the number of points, who comes out on top is decided by goal difference. This means that Spain can finish first with a tie against France (even if it’s 0-0), as long as it scores more goals than France.
The ’69 debacle: Spain lost its first game to Finland, 0-2. It took place on June 25, 1969 in Helsinki, and was a qualifier for the 1970 World Cup (Spain did not make it). Since then, Spain has played five more times against Finland, coming out with four wins and a tie. The tie was a 0-0 in the last game, on Oct. 17, 2007.
Unbeaten at El Molinón: Spain has never lost at El Molinón, having won six games and tied two. The last time Spain played here was on Aug. 17, 2005, a 2-0 win against Uruguay. Tonight’s game is only the second non-friendly, following the 3-1 win against the Faroe Islands on Oct. 11, 1997.
Another record: Spain has never lost a qualifier for the World Cup at home (41 wins and eight ties), something that only four other countries have achieved – Italy, Brazil, Eritrea and Somalia. If Spain does not lose to Finland, it will equal the second best streak of home non-losses in World Cup-related games, which is held by USSR/Russia with 50. The world record is held by Mexico, and is 51, which Spain can tie in October against Belarus.
Foreign clubs: for the first time in the history of the national team, there are more foreign clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool) represented than Spanish clubs (Barcelona, Málaga, Real Madrid, Sevilla) in a call-up.
The first: Del Bosque will tonight become the manager with the most number of games coached with Spain, at 69. In these 68 games, he has a record of 57-5-6. As the home team, his record is 17-1-0, with 54 goals in favor and only five against.
100 at the age of 26: Sergio Ramos will play his 100th game at the age of 26 years and 358 days, making him the youngest European player to reach this number. The previous record was held by Germany’s Lukas Podolski (27 years, 13 days). The Spanish record was held by Fernando Torres (28 years, 171 days). Sergio will become the eighth Spanish player (and the second defender) to reach this record after Zubi, Raúl, Iker, Xavi, Xabi, Torres and Puyol. There are only two countries that have more active players in the club of 100 than Spain – the U.S. with 12 and Mexico with nine. Seven of the eight Spaniards in the club reached it in the last seven years.
Most likely a win: except for Raúl, who tied Iceland on the day of his centennial, the rest of the Spaniards won their 100th game, and one of them, Xabi Alonso, even scored two goals (against France during the last Eurocopa).
Asturian goals: only three players born in Asturias have scored for Spain in El Molinón – Quini, Luis Enrique and Oli. Villa and Cazorla could join them tonight (Mata was born in Burgos).
Hat trick: Villa has two hat tricks with Spain. If he scores one today, he will be the first Spanish player to score a hat trick in the province he was born in. No La Roja player has managed to score more than two hat tricks.
As for the U-21 team, they beat Norway 5-2 in their friendly in Toledo. Norway scored first, but then Spain took over. The goals were scored by Cristiano Tello (2; the first one was a beauty), Rodrigo, Sergio Canales and an own goal by Norway. The team’s next game is on Monday against Russia in Alcorcón (Madrid).
Here are a few photos the boys shared showing just how adorable they are. The future is bright!