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Euro 2016 Qualifiers: Spain Beat Slovakia

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SPAIN moved a step closer to qualification for Euro 2016 and the chance to win a third successive continental competition by beating Slovakia 2-0 on Saturday night.

Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta scored the goals as Vicente del Bosque’s side leapfrogged their opponents at the top of Group C, with La Roja leading the pool with 18 points, Slovakia behind on goal difference and Ukraine three adrift with three games remaining.

Champions of Europe in 2008 and 2012, Spain remain on course to defend their title in France next summer after an impressive victory in Oviedo and here, Goal looks at five talking points from their win at the Estadio Carlos Tartiere…

Iker Casillas won his 163rd cap for Spain and it was his 100th match as captain, but his first appearance for the national side since leaving Real Madrid earlier this summer.

Now a Porto player, question marks had been raised over whether Casillas was finished as a top-level goalkeeper but Del Bosque has kept the faith.

With David de Gea yet to make a club appearance at the start of the 2015-16 season, the former Madrid goalkeeper is the logical choice to start for Spain and he didn’t let La Roja down on Saturday.

Casillas will be given tougher tests than this, but the 34-year-old looked relaxed and made one good save from Marek Hamsik which was rewarded with chants of “Iker, Iker” from the crowd in Asturias.

It may not be the most popular choice, but he is still going strong and, for now, Casillas remains Spain’s No.1 goalkeeper. De Gea will have to wait.

Diego Costa knows he has not done nearly enough since switching allegiance at international level and choosing to represent Spain instead of Brazil last year.

The former Atletico Madrid striker disappointed for La Roja in a miserable World Cup and has scored only once in eight appearances now for his adopted country.

Ahead of this game, he admitted he had “achieved nothing” since swapping Brazil for Spain and he did little in this match to cement a place in Del Bosque’s future starting XI’s, with Paco Alcacer a potential replacement.

Worse than his inability to score is the fact that he seems totally unsuited to Spain’s style. Will it ever work? Despite his obvious qualities, the jury is very much out on the Chelsea forward.

Cesc Fabregas has spent the majority of his international career claiming he wants to hold down a first-team place for Del Bosque’s team, but the Chelsea midfielder looks no nearer his target – even though Xavi and Xabi Alonso both retired from Spain duty last year.

After a successful debut season with Chelsea (particularly the first six months), the former Arsenal midfielder has been hugely disappointing and was no better on Saturday, even alongside ex-Barca teammates Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.

Ahead of him, Manchester City’s David Silva was superb in a playmaking role and set up Jordi Alba to head home the first with a wonderful pass which split the Slovakia back line in two.

On this form, both he and the excellent Iniesta will keep Isco waiting a while longer. As for Fabregas, he was taken off early and with all the quality Spain have, he will be lucky to receive another chance in the starting line-up any time soon.

Jordi Alba was out of action for Barcelona at the beginning of the season and he was badly missed as the Catalans lost the Supercopa de Espana to Athletic Bilbao.

Since his return to the starting line-up for the treble winners, he has shown just how important he is to Luis Enrique’s side and he offers a high-energy outlet down the left that is unmatched by most teams in Europe.

Against Slovakia, he got forward superbly to head home Silva’s sublime pass for the opening goal and was full of enthusiastic running throughout the 90 minutes.

Real Madrid’s Marcelo is another fantastic full-back, but Alba is as good as anyone at the moment and has made himself indispensable for both club and country.

There are few finer central defenders in world football than Gerard Pique, but still some Spain fans continue to boo him for his opinions off the pitch.

The Barcelona centre-back returned from suspension to start in Oviedo and was jeered by a sector of fans every time he touched the ball.

However, that was counteracted by another group of supporters, who attempted to drown out the boos with cheers for the 28-year-old.

Pique was given a hard time by fans in Leon last time out for his comments poking fun at Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid during Barca’s treble celebrations. He has been criticised for his strong pro-Catalan stance as well – and it seems some supporters simply won’t forgive him. – Goal.com

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