Spain coach Vicente del Bosque singled out Iker Casillas and Alvaro Negredo for special praise after the European champions downed Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-2 to complete a perfect qualifying record for next year's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Both were major influences on last night's game in Zenica, with the Sevilla forward scoring two goals and setting up another two on what was his first start for La Roja, while the Real Madrid goalkeeper was in brilliant form at the other end.
Casillas, making his 99th international appearance, made two fine saves early on when the game was still goalless, and then kept Bosnia-Herzegovina at bay with a number of crucial stops after the Iberians had taken a 2-0 lead through Gerard Pique and David Silva. He was finally beaten in stoppage time, when the hosts pulled two goals back through Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimovic, but Spain were 5-0 up at the time and assured of making it ten wins out of ten in qualifying.
"The whole team was magnificent, but Casillas was superb once again. I also want to highlight the contribution of Negredo, because it was his first game as a starter and as well as the two goals he gave the passes for two others. He has integrated perfectly into the team," said Del Bosque.
Spain's victory secured them the extremely rare feat of finishing a FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with a 100 per cent record, but it was even more impressive given that key players such as David Villa, Xavi, Fernando Torres, Carles Puyol and Cesc Fabregas were not involved. Few teams will relish facing La Roja in South Africa, although Del Bosque is reluctant to view his side as favourites to win the competition.
"I'm optimistic but also cautious," he said. "I don't want to break the euphoria amongst the fans, but more than favourites I prefer to say that Spain are contenders with high hopes.
"We have good players, a good team, but there are some very strong rivals. Our aim is to fight for the World Cup, but we know that it is very difficult."
Del Bosque also paid tribute to Bosnia-Herzegovina, who despite being on the wrong end of the one-sided scorline gave Spain plenty of problems throughout the match and should probably have taken the lead after creating three good openings in the first ten minutes.
The defeat was not a costly one for Miroslav Blazevic's team, though, as they had guaranteed themselves the runners-up position in Group 5 and a place in the play-offs prior to the match. Del Bosque believes Bosnia-Herzegovina have every chance of joining his side at next year's FIFA World Cup.
"They fully deserved to finish second," said the Spain coach. "They have everything in place to qualify for the World Cup, with a team of good individuals and fans who make it very difficult for opponents to win on their ground.